Work was life for Sue Hartman, and she relished it as part of who she was.
Working steadfastly and quietly – most often behind the scenes – she gave 39 years of support and service as a secretary and administrative assistant at the Diocesan Center. She devoted herself to six bishops, a handful of administrative office roles and countless priests – including those in the Chancery and those in parishes.
Sue passed away on December 29. She had retired in 2019as Administrative Assistant in the Secretariat for Clergy and Consecrated Life, where she spent most of her professional years.
Working for the Church was her life – but not because she was forced to give long hours, or because job demands gave her little time for anything else. Work was her life because it was her family and what she loved, say the priests who worked with her.
Msgr. William Richardson was the first to meet Sue when she arrived at 4800 Union Deposit Road in 1980. The priest had been appointed as Director of the Office of Vocations, and he hired Sue as his secretary.
Sue and her husband, Richard, had joined the Catholic Church a few years before she was hired, and her faith and work would soon combine to morph into a ministry of service.
“When she started in that office with me, she was personally involved in the lives of all the seminarians,” Msgr. Richardson said. “I would venture to say that she became the surrogate mother to many of them, especially since she and her husband had no children of their own. Her presence in the office was more her life than her job. She gave everything to it – to the seminarians and later on to the priests.”
Although Sue never specifically expressed it, Msgr. Richardson said he believes it’s the reason why Sue gave nearly 40 years of service to the Diocese. “She had no desire, really, to do anything else. This was her family. I know it was very hard when it came time for her to retire. She knew it was time, but it didn’t make things easier for her,” he said.
The two enjoyed a working relationship and a friendship that spanned four decades. When Msgr. Richardson became Chancellor and later Vicar General, Sue stayed on as his secretary and eventual administrative assistant.
“We not only became co-workers, we became friends,” he said. “Sue knew my family and I knew Sue’s mother and husband. She would watch my two nephews and my niece grow, and she was really close to my family. When I went to Sacred Heart Parish in Harrisburg, she and her husband joined the parish there. When the Harrisburg parishes merged and I became pastor at the Cathedral, they joined there. Eventually, she joined St. Catherine Labouré. She felt very much at home in the parishes because she knew the priests so well.”
Dedicated to Ministry
Sue’s Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Catherine Labouré Church on January 11 with Bishop Ronald Gainer as the principal celebrant and numerous priests as concelebrants. Msgr. Richardson was the homilist.
“The seminarians, deacons, priests and the staff at the Diocesan Center became Sue’s family, and that, I think, is one of the most outstanding qualities of this woman that we lay to rest today,” Bishop Gainer said at the Mass.
“What a wonderful tribute and legacy she leaves to our Diocese. She didn’t have a job and make a living because of what she did; she allowed that to be totally integrated into her life. It was truly a ministry. She quietly did her work with such dedication, and that’s the privilege that I had in her last years of working, to be a co-worker with her and observe her love for Christ and her love for the Church,” he said.
Father Philip Burger worked with Sue from 2011-2016, when he served as Diocesan Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life, said her legacy is one of a servant.
“Not servant in the sense of doing whatever someone told her to do, but servant because she wanted to help whoever needed her expertise and knowledge. She was a wealth of information that was always so helpful,” said Father Burger, who is now pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Abbottstown.
“Sue was just a person who wanted to be helpful to whoever was in need of information or helping, especially priests from other nations who came into the Diocese to work,” he said.
Her helpfulness extended throughout the Diocesan Center offices, as fellow employees knew they could turn to Sue for historical information, or to get an understanding of why things were done a certain way.
“Coming into the position of Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life, nothing really prepares you for some of the kinds of specific jobs in the Chancery. Sue made it so easy because she had the history of how things were and who did what, and it was an accurate list,” said Bishop William Waltersheid, Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh.
He had known Sue while he was a seminarian during her years in the Vocations Office, and came to work with her more closely when he was appointed Secretary of Clergy and Consecrated Life in 2006.
“She was a joyful person and always had a great sense of humor,” he said. “Her work was her life, there was no doubt about it. She was so dedicated to the Church and to the work of the Diocese in particular. She had a great love for priests and had a wonderful friendship with many of them. She would lovingly refer to them as her ‘boys,’ and yet always had a great respect for them.”
Bishop Waltersheid spoke of Sue as a woman of faith and prayer, especially in personally challenging times.
“When her husband passed away, she talked often about how her faith helped her get through that. Sue and Richard didn’t have children, and they really didn’t have family, so she relied on her faith, on the Church and on her friends. She really did have a very profound faith, and one that was very simple. Life was not complicated for her.”
A Friend and Co-Worker
Msgr. William King, Seminary Vice Rector and Director of Human Formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., first met Sue when he was a seminarian studying to be a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg. Before long, he felt like his family had expanded.
“Sue and her husband loved working with the seminarians, and sometimes it seemed that we had two mothers and two dads,” he recalled. “Sue couldn’t do enough for the seminarians. It was obvious that Sue enjoyed seeing the seminarians move through the years of study and formation, advancing through diaconate and into priesthood. There was always a huge smile on her face as she attended the ordinations.”
Over the years, Msgr. King would get to know her as he took on various ministries in the Diocesan offices, including in the Diocesan Tribunal, as Judicial Vicar and as Vicar General.
“Sue never said anything unkind, uncharitable, untrue, but she did have keen insight into people and into the ways things worked in the Diocesan Center,” he said.
“I never saw her truly frazzled, but she always found a way to remain lighthearted even in times of challenge and stress,” he added. “Few people saw the countless hours that Sue gave to her work, spending many evenings and weekends in the office to keep us all organized and working smoothly. She was an effective advocate for issues and people, offering wise counsel when asked. I learned to ask frequently, and spent much time sitting in her office, asking, listening and learning. Her long experience gave her a breadth of knowledge and wisdom, but always tempered with kindness and charity, and never with gossip or cynicism.”
He said Sue “never lost sight of the presence of Jesus in all of it, and provided a steady and soothing hand and voice as a member of the team.”
Father William Forrey, current Vicar General for the Diocese, was a witness to Sue’s dedication for many years, dating back a few decades to his days in the Diocesan Center as Secretary for Catholic Life and Evangelization.
“Sue was one who lived her faith in service to the Church, and she did so by dedicating her life to serving in the Chancery of the Diocese of Harrisburg,” he said. “She adopted as her family the seminarians, religious sisters and priests of the Diocese and she did her best to be helpful and supportive to them as they carried out their ministries. She was one that you could count on to be faithful, trustworthy and dependable. Her manner put you at ease and she had a contagious laugh that spoke of a joy that she found in the work that she did and the faith that she lived.”
Bishop Waltersheid said Sue’s legacy is already being revealed, in her dedication to the Church and her charitable nature in extending kindness to others.
“When somebody would call with a problem, she had a wonderful way about engaging people on the phone, and by the time the call would get passed to me, she had paved the way so I could begin a conversation where they already felt like they were respected and listened to,” he remarked. “I never saw Sue as my secretary; I saw her as my co-worker. She was always very charitable when it came to people.”
“She was one of a kind, and I considered her to be a dear friend,” he said. “She was truly like family, and I valued her so very, very much. It’s the best of the Church when you have the clergy and the laity working together, hand in hand.”
“Her dedication to the Church and her love for people is her lasting legacy,” he added. “Giving 39 years to the Diocese speaks for itself.”
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness