SEATTLE – In five decades at St. Matthew Parish, Jean Cooney worked for 16 pastors, 17 priest assistants and six deacons.
“That’s very challenging,” Cooney said. “Each pastor has different expectations.”
Cooney retired June 29 from the north Seattle parish. “I just decided it was time to hang it up” after 50 years and six months, she explained. “That’s enough time to put on the job, I think.”
More than a place of employment, St. Matthew’s has been a fixture in Cooney’s family life. She and her husband Tom (who died in 2010) were charter members of the parish when it was formed in 1954 and their four children attended St. Matthew School.
In 1968, with all her children in school, Cooney decided to go to work. She was hired as St. Matthew’s parish secretary, joining a staff that included the pastor, janitor and housekeeper. Working at the parish allowed Cooney to walk her kids to school and keep close tabs on them.
She was hired not long after the Second Vatican Council concluded in 1965, which she said was “a very exciting time to work for the Catholic Church. I miss the spirit of Vatican II.”
Jean Cooney spends a moment with Fathers Gordon Douglas, left, and Richard Basso, two of the pastors she worked for at St. Matthew Parish, during a party celebrating Father Douglas’ 50th anniversary as a priest. Photo: Jim Bowen
Over the decades, Cooney served a number of roles for St. Matthew’s — secretary, parish/school bookkeeper, pastoral assistant for administration, and for the past several years, administrative assistant.
Jackie Hoyt first met Cooney in the parish office about 50 years ago (the women and their husbands became good friends). “Jean was running everything,” Hoyt said. Cooney was responsible for keeping track of all the weddings, baptisms and funerals at the parish, and she also seemed to know everybody in the parish.
“She had so much knowledge of the people and she had such respect for that knowledge,” said Holy Names Sister Kate Buzard, who worked with Cooney at St. Matthew’s in the early 1990s. She described Cooney as warm, friendly and receptive.
Cooney said people often showed up at the parish office looking for help and she would try to make them feel comfortable.
“She’s always been a calm advocate for good,” said Pat Buckley, a longtime parishioner who recently moved to Anacortes.
During Cooney’s time at St. Matthew’s, the parish has become more culturally diverse, with parishioners from the Philippines, India, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Cooney said. The parish school was originally staffed by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, but their numbers dwindled over the years and lay teachers replaced them. The former convent is now home to the Lisieux House, where nine young Catholic women reside in a lay community.
Although she’s retiring, Cooney doesn’t plan to stop working. She intends to volunteer and remain an active part of the St. Matthew’s community.
“I can’t say enough of the parishioners,” Cooney said of her time on the parish staff. “The people at St. Matthew are extremely loyal to St. Matthew’s Parish.”