Last year, Pope Francis appointed a dozen women to senior Vatican positions, roles that have traditionally been reserved for clerics and men.
With her experience, Roseann Biasi-Vazquez could have occupied one of these positions.
The Nutley resident is stepping down this month after nearly 50 years as an employee of the Archdiocese of Newark headquarters known as the Chancery. Eighteen of those years were as Executive Assistant to the Archbishop. In this role, she oversaw a team of five and was the gatekeeper to clergy, laity and dignitaries who wanted the archbishop’s ear.
“While it was clear to everyone that working in the Archbishop’s office could be very stressful, we also knew that when Roseann’s help was needed, she would inevitably respond in a kind way to address concerns in a thoughtful way. “said Steve Belloise, the archdiocesan director of property management.
Biasi-Vazquez’s longest stint was working with the late Archbishop John Myers from 1999 to 2016.
“He touched me deeply with his unwavering faith; his faith never wavered,” Biasi-Vazquez said, seeing a side of him few have seen. “I like to describe him as a ‘great-grandfather’. I’m sorry not many people knew him that way. He was shy in large crowds and many people assumed he was aloof. But he really wasn’t.
She then worked with Cardinal Joseph Tobin for her first three years.
“We got along really well,” she said. “He took the time to get to know me as he started his new role.”
Tobin differed in that he was the first member of a religious order to become Archbishop of Newark and the first as a cardinal.
Biasi-Vazquez noted that “as a true disciple of Saint Alfonso de Liguori, who founded the Redemptorists, he has the heart of a Redemptorist and I am sure he always will.”
The highlight of his tenure was the visit of Pope John Paul II to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and the Stadium of the Giants in 1995.
“It was a pleasure for me to work on his visit. The moment he entered the cathedral was beyond my wildest imagination,” she recalled.
At the stadium, she worked with communications in the press box. She called it “truly a gift from above”.
And although she also met many cardinals, archbishops, bishops, monsignors, priests, abbots, provincials, she especially remembers some special people who worked in the other offices at the same time. The first person she met in 1975 who touched her deeply was Maria de los Angeles Garcia, a Cuban refugee who worked in religious education. Before coming to the United States, she was imprisoned in Cuba for teaching religion.
“At 19 in 1975, it blew my mind,” she said.
Then she shared her office with the late Monsignor James Sheehan, Myers’ second priest secretary, who died too young.
“He taught me so much about life and about our faith,” she said. “Even in his last days he offered his sufferings for the priests of the archdiocese.”
Biasi-Vazquez ended her career working in the Priests Personnel Office as a senior executive assistant because she likely knew every ordained priest.
Born in Newark, she graduated from Girls Vocational and Technical High School because her parents could not afford St Vincent’s Academy. But it was a blessing in disguise. Later, while working at an insurance company and unhappy with her job, a priest told her about a vacancy in the Office of Religious Education.
“I thought I would become a Little Sister of the Poor, so working for the church interested me a lot,” she said.
The same week she started working in the Chancery, she met her future husband, David, at daily Mass. Today, they have been married for 38 years with one son and two granddaughters.
“I did my best to be an instrument of the message and presence of Christ,” she said. “My heart is full and very grateful. The people I have worked with have been truly a blessing.
Before Monsignor Michael Andreano became pastor of Ss. Peter & Paul, Hoboken, he was the third and last priest secretary of Myers, then chancellor and vicar general. Biasi-Vazquez has worked closely with him and they are good friends.
“She is a woman of true and deep faith, whose tastes are no longer easily found,” he said, noting that Biasi-Vazquez approached her work as a vocation and a ministry.
For this, Myers asked Pope Benedict to appoint her Dame of the Holy Sepulchre, a high papal honor, bestowed on her in 2005. Dames and Knights, the male counterparts, are responsible for doing charitable works and she plans to volunteer at her parochial preschool and pro-life programs Mercy House and Rachel’s Vineyard.
But I think she deserves a more American title. In some Protestant churches, members are referred to as brothers and sisters, and especially wise women are referred to as “Mother of the Church”.
I hereby appoint Roseann Biasi-Vazquez as “Mother of the Chancellery”. She deserved it.
Reverend Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.