Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Clarkston’s parish secretary: ‘Even on the worst of days I go home and feel blessed that I have this job’

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Aug. 21, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Purcell is the secretary for Holy Family Parish, Clarkston. (IR photo courtesy of Holy Family Parish)

In April of 1997, Father Len Forsmann (d. 2007) hired Mary Purcell as the new full-time secretary for Holy Family Parish in Clarkston. “My job title,” she quips, “is jack of all trades, master of none.”

Purcell earned a cosmetology license in 1986, and she holds a certificate in Child Development from the University of Idaho. She explained that for many years she was “an at-home Mom, and during that time my husband and I became foster parents and crisis child care providers. I then went to work for River Crest Hospital (a psychiatric and treatment center in Lewiston, Idaho) on the adolescent unit working night shifts.”

After two years of working nights, Purcell moved to regular daytime hours in the hospital’s business office. “I stayed at River Crest until they closed in 1991,” she said. “I then went to work for ColorTyme (a retail furniture company), in Clarkston, as their accounts payable clerk, and as the corporation grew I took on more responsibilities such as payroll, month-end reports, and bank reconciliations. The company then decided to open a loan department, and I was put in charge of that.”

Purcell has quite a story to tell about how she happened to become Holy Family Parish’s secretary:

“My very good friend Kelli Sheppard is the secretary at Holy Family School. Kelli knew that my job at ColorTyme was taking a lot of time away from my family and that I was frustrated with that. So, one day she called me … about a job as a secretary for the parish. I told her that I probably wouldn’t get the job because I knew little about my faith and hadn’t been a very faithful Catholic. She called me about three more times over the course of a month and asked if I had applied. I continued to stall because I didn’t think I would get the job. Finally, I decided to apply, and I got the job.”

Purcell said that at this point she was feeling anxious about leaving her current position, and she knew she would regret leaving her co-workers. After equivocating for a couple of days, however, a friend entered Purcell’s workplace. “She said that I had been on her mind,” said Purcell, “and she handed me an envelope, turned around, and walked out the door. When I opened the envelope, out fell her rosary from Medjugorje. I turned to Sheri, my supervisor, and showed her what (the customer) brought in. Good Catholic that she is, she said that someone must be calling me back to the church. I laid the rosary on my desk, went into the bathroom and started crying. God knew that it would take a two-by-four to get me to listen, and so from that point I have been at Holy Family.”

As often seems to be the case with parish secretaries and office managers, Purcell’s spouse often helps out with parish-related projects. She said that her husband, Kevin, “was diagnosed three years ago at the age of 45 with early onset Parkinson’s disease and had to take early retirement. So, for the past three years he has been my right-hand man, helping me and Father (Tom Connolly, pastor) with many things, from decorating the church for Christmas to cleaning the basement of the church, and by running errands. He always makes himself available when Father or I need him.”

Purcell’s summary of her job description at Holy Family Parish is an exercise in understatement. “I think that my job description varies according to the needs of the parish at any given time,” she said. “Overall, I do the bookkeeping, payroll, and bulletin, and I maintain parish records. I oversee the maintenance for the church, parish center, and rectory. I make myself available to parishioners and answer the phone. I find that you need to be very flexible with this job, as you never know who is going to walk through your door and what their needs might be.”

Most jobs have down sides, of course, and being a parish secretary is no different. “Sometimes the inner parish conflict is difficult,” she said. “People hear something or read something and only get parts of it, or don’t understand everything. Then they get upset and instead of coming and talking to Father about it, they get angry and leave, or they start little fires all around the parish, and those take so much energy to put out, energy that could be used for building up the family of God, rather than tearing it down.”

For the most part, however, as a parish secretary, Purcell finds blessings and joy. “What I like most about my job,” she said, “is that even on the worst of days I go home and feel blessed that I have this job. The people at Holy Family are the best anywhere, and to feel that I belong to this community is huge. I love the people that I work with and for. I work in a place where there is always laughter. It’s a place where you continue to grow personally, but most importantly, spiritually. I have been blessed to work for Father Len, who answered so many of my newly found faith questions, and Father Tom, who has so much energy and is constantly looking for ways to build community. Because of Father Tom and the Holy Spirit, my husband became Catholic, and our marriage is even stronger because of that. I love how this Catholic community pulls together whenever they are needed, to do what is needed without hesitating.”

Said Father Connolly, “I have been very blessed to have Mary as my secretary here at Holy Family in Clarkston. As we priests move from place to place we have our way of doing things, and yet we also have to have that connection to the past. Not only is Mary that connection for me here at Holy Family, she has proven to be a great support to me in the way I do things. She made my transition into this parish very easy. Mary is also a real people person who takes time with everyone who comes into our offices no matter what she may be working on. She is resourceful, reliable, compassionate, and dedicated, a real blessing not only to me but also to the parish.”


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