During this time she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and soon after returning came across the position of secretary for the bishop of Maitland-Newcastle. She took the opportunity for a career change and has been in the role for 27 years.
Receiving a papal blessing from the Pope himself in 2018, Elizabeth remains a humble Novocastrian who treasures the daily phone calls from members of the community.
What Catholic school/s did you attend? Do you know why your parents chose Catholic education for you?
I attended St John’s Primary School, Lambton, and St Aloysius Girls High School, Hamilton. My mum and dad had themselves been educated by the nuns and as such would not have thought of sending their four kids anywhere else. But I think most importantly they wanted us to have “Catholic”, and all that entailed, in our education.
What are your fondest memories from your schooling years?
In primary school I couldn’t wait for the days my mum was rostered on “tuck shop” duty. It was a lovely feeling to see her there behind the counter at playtime and lunchtime – I was so proud and happy. I also got to have a “tuck shop” lunch on those days. I also loved that each morning before school all the kids would play red rover cross over – boys against girls. In high school it was the commitment of one of our male lay teachers who gave of his time after school hours to tutor six of us 4th form (now Year 10) “credit class” girls to sit for the advanced history paper in the School Certificate.
Before joining the Catholic Diocese, you had an extensive career in the travel industry. What prompted the career change?
I had not been particularly happy for some time working in that industry when it took a bit of slump. As the manager of an agency that was part of a large national travel company, I had expectations placed upon me to take what I considered to be outrageous steps to make a profit, which left me feeling compromised and even more unhappy. I had just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when I was told the bishop’s secretary position had been advertised and that I should apply. I did, and the rest is history.
In your 27 years at the Catholic Diocese you have worked alongside various bishops. What changes have you witnessed?
I think the major change is in the growth of the administrative side of the Diocese and the decline in clergy numbers. This has led to a far greater participation and accountability of the lay people in the Church. The growth has resulted in a large number of women appointed to leadership roles. I have seen a huge change in the structure of parishes – from every parish having at least two priests, to two or more parishes sharing one priest to several parishes amalgamating into just one parish. Also I have witnessed the growth of CatholicCare Social Services to the establishment of Zimmerman Services and the Office of Safeguarding.
Has there been a particularly memorable or fond moment you can recall?
There have been many, but I will always remember the people who telephone the office and when they are about to hang up say, “thanks for listening”. I also have to mention this quote from one of the three bishops with whom I have worked (and he shall remain nameless) when speaking about me: “I may be the leader of the Diocese, but we all know who is in charge.” I get great mileage out of that one.
In 2018, you received a papal blessing. What does this certificate mean to you and was it a surprise?
The papal blessing was presented to me on the occasion of my 25th anniversary of working for the Diocese, and yes it was a huge surprise. Not only is receiving a “blessing” from the Holy Father a privilege but I was very moved by the fact that my colleagues who arranged it considered me worthy. And what was amazing was that they arranged it and I didn’t catch on that they were doing it.
This is the 200th edition of Aurora. How have you seen the magazine evolve and what do you think is its role in our community?
I have seen Aurora evolve from a separate publication distributed purely throughout our parishes and schools to an insert in our local newspaper. Aurora provides the opportunity to exhibit the “good news” of Jesus Christ in our Diocese as well as being an educational tool, particularly to those in the broader community.