Petite assistant’s retirement a big loss for priests she helped

For years, tiny Marie Sailas has been a motherly “big sister” to the 300-plus priests of the Denver Archdiocese.

As executive assistant in Priest Personnel, she’s warmly welcomed new priests to the archdiocese and the newly ordained to their priestly “office,” saw to it infirm priests were visited and weary priests got respite, and lovingly arranged funerals for those who died.

And every day she’s prayed “for my priests.”

After 25 years coordinating the administrative details for the Vicar for Clergy and the priests he oversees, and five previous years doing secretarial work for Hispanic Ministry, Sailas is retiring.

“’To everything there is a season,’… my season has come to an end; it is time to say goodbye,” Sailas, 70, wrote in an email to priests last week announcing Feb. 7 as her last day. “It is time to take my leave … to be for my family. Thanks for the journey.”

Thirteen years ago Sailas’ work for the archdiocese was recognized with a papal award, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Cross for the Church and the Pope). It’s among her most treasured possessions.

“I was really humbled by that,” she said. “I remain very humbled.”

In retirement she plans to travel with her husband, spend time with her daughters and their families, and study her family of origin’s genealogy.

What she loved about her job was that each day was a new adventure, Sailas told the Denver Catholic Register.

“It was never the same. Every week I would come in and it was different!” she said. “I was never bored; it was never routine.”

Joys included the elevation to the episcopacy of former pastor and seminary rector Father Sam Aquila to bishop of Fargo, S.D., and then his return to Denver as current archbishop, as well as the elevation of her former boss, Msgr. R. Walker Nickless, to bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.

“I was always teasing (Msgr. Nickless) and telling him, ‘One of these days you’re going to be a bishop.’ I’d say, ‘Oh, look they need a bishop in Las Vegas.’ Or, ‘Oh look, they need a bishop in Montana,’” she recalled. “When it happened, he came in on his day off … I looked at him and knew there was something big he had to tell me, and he said, ‘I’ve been named a bishop.’ That was really a highlight—that was neat.”

Sorrows included arranging funerals for beloved priest friends when they died, and calling on priests to minister to the Columbine community the day of the school shooting.

And there was the case of the missing priest.

“I had to call Msgr. Bernie (Schmitz, vicar for clergy) one day and tell him ‘We lost a priest!’” she said with a laugh.

It turned out the “missing” priest had been hiking alone in the mountains and was injured in a fall. The parish got concerned when their conscientious pastor failed to show up for morning Mass. Meanwhile, hikers found him and rescuers quickly returned him safely to town.

She will miss her beloved priests and bishops and they will miss her. Sailas has a folder full of emails they sent in response to her retirement announcement.

“I am grateful to you for all of your work throughout the years and most especially for all your prayers and compassion,” wrote Archbishop Aquila. “Many blessings on you and your family in your retirement!”

Colorado Springs Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen wrote, “You were the anchor while the vicars came and went along with the archbishops, bishops and even the cardinal. … I will always appreciate your friendship and your deep spiritual journey.”

Her favorite response may well be that of her former boss, Bishop Nickless.

“Marie, you are the best! I think I am a bishop because of you!” she read aloud, laughing at their inside joke. Looking up she confided, “There are other priests I think are bishop material, too!”

Her current boss, Msgr. Schmitz, told the Register Sailas has been his trusted “co-pilot” making sure he stayed on course and alerting him to the needs of the priests.

“The priests were not just names in a book but they were, and still are, her ‘brothers’ and daily she prays for them. … She aches over their pains and rejoices over their successes,” he said. “Each person has a dignity in her mind and she protects it. She will be deeply missed.”

Roxanne King: 303-715-3215;;

















COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”