WINDSOR TERRACE — She may be the person in the Diocese of Brooklyn who knows Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio best. Joanne Weiss has logged 27 years as his personal secretary — a tenure that dates back to the days before he was a bishop. With that many years of service, it’s no wonder Weiss is recognized as a key member of the bishop’s team who ensures that his office runs smoothly.
Weiss juggles many duties and responsibilities throughout her day. A very important task is fielding the many requests from people seeking time with the bishop. Weiss says she gets so many phone calls and emails a day, it’s sometimes hard to keep count.
“I’ve heard people say to me, ‘Well, you’re the gatekeeper.’ Perhaps. But my job is not to keep people out,” she said. Rather, her job is to help the person coordinate what they are looking for from the bishop so that the meeting or phone call can be as productive as possible.
As she sees it, her mission is to support Bishop DiMarzio as head of the diocese, but Weiss is also quick to point out that her role is behind the scenes. She has tremendous respect for her coworkers in the bishop’s office and colleagues she calls upon each day throughout various diocesan departments.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do for the bishop without them,” Weiss said.
Bishop DiMarzio said Weiss has many strengths, including her keen insight and knowledge of issues.
“She knows me very well. She knows what the issues are, what I like, what I don’t like, what I need to do,” he said. “One of the most difficult things she manages is my schedule because it means saying no to certain things, which I don’t like to do. She reminds me, you can’t do everything, you have to choose this or that.”
“She has made great sacrifices working for me, and I am grateful for her support and dedication,” Bishop DiMarzio added.
In September, Weiss’ contributions were recognized when she was one of 20 recipients of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal, a papal honor, at a ceremony at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph.
It’s a prestigious honor that comes during an approaching milestone in a long career with the Church — nearly 30 years.
Weiss’ job in Brooklyn brings her back to her native borough. She was baptized at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Flatlands. Soon after though, her family moved to Newark, where she grew up. She was taught in both grammar school and high school by the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station. Before entering the workforce, Weiss studied at Katharine Gibbs secretarial school, a well-known training ground for secretaries.
She spent more than 14 years working in government sectors on national and state levels. She worked in Senator Bill Bradley’s New Jersey district office. Weiss says she got that position by chance. She was working at another job and was looking for a change. That’s when she asked her contacts at Katharine Gibbs if there were any job openings, and they led her to Bradley’s office.
Weiss served as secretary to Ray Bramucci, director of New Jersey Operations for Bradley. Impressed with her work ethic, Bramucci then asked Weiss to come with him as his confidential secretary when he was appointed the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor in Trenton in 1990.
More change was on the horizon. Weiss had a long commute between her home in Newark and her office in Trenton every day. She began looking for an opportunity to work closer to home.
At the time, Bishop DiMarzio was a monsignor serving in the Archdiocese of Newark and was the head of Catholic Charities.
“The Newark Star-Ledger [newspaper] had an ad for a secretary. There were two opportunities at Catholic Charities in Newark,” Weiss said. “I was told that I would be interviewing with Msgr. Nicholas DiMarzio.”
“I got the job,” she added, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Msgr. DiMarzio was named an auxiliary bishop of Newark in 1996. In 1999, he was appointed bishop of Camden. He became the bishop of Brooklyn in 2003. All of these years later, Weiss is still by his side.
“Twenty-seven years is a long time. That’s how long she’s worked with me,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “She’s been my right hand, and I don’t know how I could have done any of it without her. It’s as simple as that.”
While Weiss’ to-do list is always full, there are quieter moments in her day that she appreciates like transcribing “Put Out Into the Deep,” the weekly column Bishop DiMarzio writes for The Tablet. The bishop dictates the column on a recording, which Weiss listens to and transcribes.
“I love it,” she said, adding that it gives her a chance to tune everything out and listen as she’s typing. “I always learn something interesting.”
Perhaps the thing that motivates Weiss the most, however, is the bishop’s ministry.
“I respect Bishop DiMarzio, and I respect the work he does. He does so much for so many people,” she said.