Home Diocese Reflection From Pat Allen, Bishop McGrath’s Long-Time Secretary and Friend

Reflection From Pat Allen, Bishop McGrath’s Long-Time Secretary and Friend


On June 15, 2019, thirty-two years will have passed since I began to work for Bishop Patrick Joseph [PJ] McGrath as his secretary. I became his secretary in 1987 when he was Pastor of the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption in San Francisco and continued to work for him as Auxiliary Bishop of San Francisco, Coadjutor Bishop of San Jose, Bishop of San Jose, and soon to be Bishop Emeritus of San Jose.

A few days ago, I was hanging some pictures at home and thinking about the past thirty-two years. As I hammered the nails into the wall, I found myself smiling and thinking: “Bishop McGrath and I are so very, very, very different!” When I hang a picture, I tend to “eyeball” the placement of the nail. I hammer it in, hang the picture and, more often than not, then remove the picture, remove the nail, and repeat the process a few more times. In contrast, Bishop McGrath determines the location for the nail by measuring. He inserts one nail, hammers it in, hangs the picture on the wall and presto! Perfect! Done! Another difference: Bishop McGrath opens letters with a letter opener – I rip the envelopes open! In using the Chancery elevator, he presses the close door button, holds it, then presses the appropriate floor number button. In contrast, I just keep pushing all the buttons until something eventually happens! Packing up our offices has revealed another set of differences!!

Bishop McGrath truly enjoys people. In many ways, I have come to regard him as an Ambassador for Hospitality. In the 20 years he has been the Bishop of San Jose, he has welcomed thousands and thousands of people to his home. In contrast, if truth be known, an evening home with my dogs is more my style. And yet, thirty-two years have passed!

Those thirty-two years have included many important events and developments that will forever be part of the histories of the Diocese of San Jose and the Archdiocese of San Francisco: the Loma Prieto earthquake, the visit John Paul II, the diocesan Pastoral Plan, the move to the current Chancery Office, the establishment of the Foundation and a diocesan endowment fund, to name but a few.

And yet, when I reflect on the past thirty-two years, I know that it is none of those accomplishments that were behind my choice to remain his secretary for more than three decades. For me, it has been the little things – the actions, the words, the remembering, the decisions that unfailingly show that people are important and that what is important to them, is also important to him!

I recall the time I was driving the bishop somewhere. My dog was also in the car. So that Bishop McGrath could sit in the passenger seat, Grady (the dog!) had been demoted to the back. Grady was neither amused nor willing to relinquish his usual seat! As soon as the bishop was settled and the car in motion, Grady jumped to the front and reclaimed the passenger seat for himself! The trip continued with Grady perched on the Bishop’s lap! I recall the time when I needed to visit an ailing relative. The bishop called to ask if my dogs would be okay and offered his services as a temporary dog sitter! He was aware of my weakness for doughnuts and regularly brought me a doughnut (or two) from the monthly Council of Priests meeting. If there were a meeting in the Chancery at which lunch was served, Bishop McGrath always brought back for me half of his sandwich!

Bishop McGrath knows the importance of saying “thank you”– and writing the thank you note immediately! He is someone who knows the importance of presence. We frequently changed his schedule so that he could visit a person in the hospital, attend a funeral, or drop in on someone’s 100th birthday party or 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration! He is someone who knows the importance of remembering dates and events in the lives of the people around him! He continues to remember my mom and brother on the anniversaries of their deaths!

For me, it is has been a privilege to be the secretary to Bishop McGrath for the past thirty-two years. I have learned much, but it is the “little things” I learned from his example on a daily basis that comprise my most valuable lesson. What was important to others was/is also important to him! In reality, perhaps that is not so “little” after all!!

In concluding this article, I am again looking at my recently hung pictures! But again, I have to smile. Four holes were all that were required. I have ten!!

Faithful Assistant; More Loyal Friend

By Liz Sullivan

It is said behind every good man there is an even better woman.

For Bishop Patrick J. McGrath this has certainly been the case.

As the Bishop retires so too does his long-time assistant Pat Allen.

Allen first became McGrath’s assistant when he became Rector and Pastor of Saint Mary Cathedral in San Francisco in 1986. After a brief break when McGrath moved to the Tribunal in Archdiocese, the pair joined forces again when he was ordained Auxiliary Bishop in San Francisco in 1989.

From there, until now, it has been a collaboration between the two.

“Pat has been amazing,” said Bishop McGrath. “She’s not only been my assistant, but she’s been my friend too. She is a person I have always been able to depend on. She knows me better than most people.”

Bishop McGrath said he understands the importance of the work Allen has done for him and his ministry over the years.

“Her job is very sensitive,” he said. “She has always been kind and grateful. She’s been a great co-worker and I have been fortunate to work with her.”