by KATHLEEN CASEY
Serious travel is in Angela Woolstencroft’s retirement plans, but she is unambiguous about out how much she has loved her job as bishop’s PA in Christchurch for the past 14 years.
“I don’t refer to it as a job: I call it a privilege.” She has enjoyed daily liaison with a
wide variety of people, clergy and lay. In all, she worked for Christchurch diocese for the
past 26 years.
As bishop’s PA, many people approached her looking for guidance or help. “They are not always Catholic, but they may have a link with the Church.”
That was especially noticeable during the uncovering of sexual abuse within the Church, but at any time it can be a great challenge, she said.
“Even ringing up for an appointment may have cost them a lot, and who am I to judge how important this is — and the bishop’s calendar could be full.”
Sorting out the caller’s area of concern and transferring them, where possible, to someone else without putting them off, she said, can be trying.
Challenge is inherent in any senior position, but who could predict the boss having a stroke, and thousands of ongoing earthquakes in Christchurch and the wider area? When Bishop Jones fell ill a few months after the February 2011 earthquake, Vicar General Fr Rick Loughnan took over with Mrs Woolstencroft’s help on day-to-day matters.
Bishop John Cuneen had also suffered a more severe stroke in her time and was unable to fully return to work.
Earthquakes brought new challenges. Mrs Woolstencroft and her husband, Graham, were fortunate to have a home not badly damaged but, she said: “The biggest thing for me was coming into
work and having to appreciate what other staff members were going through. They would be fine, but in 10 minutes could be shaking and upset.”
At one time when she and Graham were on tour underground in Malta the mention of local earthquake action there caused her to “freeze”.
“Here we were three years on: I didn’t realise that was there for me.”
Bishop Jones said he was introduced to the episcopal role by all sorts of good advice
from his PA — who was quite nervous with her new boss.
“You don’t get any preparation for being a bishop, but it’s lovely when someone has experience in working with a bishop.”
Constantly “inheriting new situations”, Bishop Jones appreciated Mrs Woolstencroft’s knowhow.
“The really great thing,” he said,” is that she relates very well to the priests. They have said how they appreciate her helpfulness and friendliness. A lot of the inter-communication is done by Angela.”
Bishops’ PAs meet over a few days each year in conjunction with the bishops’ conference. It’s the only professional development available with that work, said Mrs Woolstencroft, and is organised by the host diocese’s PA.
Before her job as bishop’s PA, Mrs Woolstencroft had six years in administration with the diocesan youth team and another six with the Catholic Education office.