September 7, 2018, Tucson, Arizona – Sister Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, has been ministering for years in a position that “was never anything I would have thought of doing, nothing that was anywhere near my radar.” She is serving as administrative assistant to Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, until recently Bishop of the Diocese of Tucson and currently Bishop Emeritus.
During Bishop Kicanas’ years as Bishop of Tucson, Sister Charlotte kept his calendar, in particular scheduling confirmations across the 43,000-square mile diocese; scheduled his travel and booked his flights; worked with his email; kept up his correspondence; and served as the bishop’s liaison to the Diocesan Pastoral Council. “It’s been a very busy 16 years,” Sister Charlotte said, noting that this past April, 2018, marked 16 years that she has worked for Bishop Kicanas. In total, in her 60 years of religious life, she has served in Tucson for 43 years in three ministries, as of August 2018.
Now that he’s Bishop Emeritus – he doesn’t use the word “retired,” she said – Bishop Kicanas still conducts missions and retreats, travels for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), chairs the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), and serves on committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“He’s requested many, many times for different talks and convocations,” Sister Charlotte said. “He’s in demand even now. The only thing he gave up was the administration of the diocese, which is huge.”
Sister Charlotte speaks highly of Bishop Kicanas and of her ministry as his administrative assistant. Bishop Kicanas is “a wonderful pastoral leader,” she said. “He is very pastoral and the people love him. He is so considerate and kind to us in the process of getting the work done.”
While her work isn’t stressful, Sister Charlotte said, it can at times be intense because of deadlines or travel. But her ministry calls on her to be mindful of how she treats people. “When you’re the one who answers the phone, no matter how you feel that day, you have to be the welcoming voice in that bishop’s office,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Sometimes you have to be really patient. I feel I’ve been able to help people who might have been upset. You represent [the bishop] at that moment.”
Sister Charlotte also focuses on being as pleasant as possible with people who come to Bishop Kicanas for appointments or bring a concern to him. “You try to be gracious regardless of what they’re coming in for,” she said. “They come in concerned about something, so you try to be patient and greet them in a pleasant, happy way. You try to be as supportive as you can in every situation.”
Confidentiality is also a key factor in her ministry. “You have to understand the confidentiality level of what you’re doing, and hopefully you bring your own prudence and judgment to that position,” she explained. “There’s a lot of confidentiality in correspondence and phone messages.”
While serving in a diocesan setting was new for Sister Charlotte when she first worked for Bishop Kicanas, administration is not. After teaching at Loretto Catholic School in Douglas, Arizona, in the Diocese of Tucson, for five years, she served in various ministries in California and Arizona before returning to Tucson in 1975 to minister as Principal of Santa Cruz School in until 1986. She then served for 15 years for Project YES (Youth Enrichment and Support), a youth center in an underserved area of Tucson.
“We started out with just after-school tutoring program to help keep the kids off the streets and safe from drugs,” Sister Charlotte explained. “Eventually we went into the teen program and the Parent to Parent program, which gives parents the tools they need to raise their children effectively, safe from gangs and drugs.” Sister Charlotte served first as staff member and then eventually became the Executive Director after the resignation of her predecessor.
Sister Charlotte’s long-time presence and service in Tucson were not lost on the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Tucson, which in February presented her with the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for education and community service for the various ways that she served the community. The award is presented to those who have “demonstrated a history of dedicated service, support and leadership within the Diocese of Tucson Catholic Schools.”
In turn, Sister Charlotte is quick to point out the benefits of living and serving in Tucson. “Tucson is very good for body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city, close to the desert community.” She said she has enjoyed her years of ministry in the Tucson area and is happy to continue serving Bishop Kicanas. “It is a privilege, a gift, and a challenge to be working in the diocese,” she said.