They are the gatekeepers of the dioceses - although that description makes them sound more ominous than they are. Still, if you want to talk to, or book some time with the bishop, you'd better be nice to them.
They are the bishops' secretaries and, with many of them having been in the job longer than their bosses, it is sometimes uncertain who wields the true power in the dioceses.
A recent gathering brought together for the first time 25 secretaries from 22 dioceses, plus the Primate's principal secretary and executive assistant, to talk about their common challenges and joys in a demanding, yet - as most agree - rewarding job.
They grumbled good-naturedly about some of their bosses' bad habits - particularly those workaholic bishops who seem unable to say no to people's requests for their time, and those who book their own appointments without checking with their secretaries or their own datebooks. But most expressed profound admiration for those same bosses, warts and all.
More than that, women (the Primate's principal secretary was the only male in the group) who previously knew each other only by phone finally met face to face, in some cases up to 10 years after first talking to each other.
The idea for the meeting came from the Primate's office, which organized the gathering. It started with the secretaries meeting for a day-and-a-half, then brought in the bishops.
On the first night of the gathering, Archbishop Michael Peers welcomed the secretaries, saying: "I hope you'll find this an opportunity to learn and to share, because there's an enormous store of wisdom here."
Enormous, in fact, might have been understating the case. Among the secretaries, it was not unusual to find women who had been a bishop's secretary for 10 or 15 years or more. The bishop of Athabasca's secretary has held the job for 21 years - and her counterpart from Saskatoon has been there an astounding 42 years, 38 as bishop's secretary.
Among the group, security was an issue for some, mostly those in urban areas. Some come from dioceses with two or three office staff, including the bishop, while larger dioceses will have more than 30. But even in offices where there is little concern about who walks through the front door, many secretaries mentioned the challenge of deciding who sees the bishop, particularly when church members feel something approaching ownership of the incumbent. …