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; email@example.com; www.twitter.com/DCRegister