“You have to be flexible when you take up the profession”

Stairs in an old building © A-photographyy (shutterstock)

They work for the Catholic Church and are becoming less and less common. This does not refer to pastors – but the profession is linked to them: According to current estimates, there are also fewer and fewer parish housekeepers. How has the profession changed??

Interviewer: My great uncle was a priest and lived with his sister under one roof. She did his budget. In the 70's no one was surprised about that. But today it is a rather rare model, isn't it??

Annette Koster (Chairwoman of the Diocesan Association of Parish Housekeepers in the Archdiocese of Cologne): It's very rare today for a sister or cousin or aunt to be a parish housekeeper. Whereas in the past, there were often people who were not related to the priests. But that's really the rule today, that someone from the outside comes in.

Interviewer: But there are fewer than 800 full-time parish housekeepers nationwide living under the same roof as a Catholic priest. I'm sure that's mainly because there are simply fewer parish priests than there were 40 years ago, or?

Koster: One is coupled with the other. But of course it is also due to the changed way of life of the priests. In former times, as it always was with men anyway, the parish housekeepers were rather clueless in the household. That has changed fundamentally. The willingness to also have another person living in the house has also become much less.

Interviewer: But we can't talk about this ie without addressing the stereotype. "The woman in the priest's household" naturally gives rise to gossip.

Koster: Yes, of course. You've got to have something to gossip about. I think that is the case in all areas of life. That is of course always interesting. We are, and the pastor of course anyway, at the center of the congregation and in the spotlight as well. As is the way with cliches. There may be something to it, there may not be – there is everything.

Interviewer: We always talk about the female form "housekeeper". It's predominantly a female profession, but there are also housekeepers, or?

Koster: There are certainly. At the federal level I have heard it many times. In our diocese we have two men in the household.

Interviewer: Have the tasks of parish housekeepers changed in the past 40 to 50 years?? My first association goes in the direction of: cooking, washing, cleaning – in other words, housekeeping, in order to relieve the priest in these necessary things.

Koster: These areas are of course still part of it. In our case, for example, there is also a large garden, which is very important. But there are also more and more varied tasks that are taken on as well. I'll use myself as an example: I also sometimes fill in at church as a sexton. I'm also still a church musician on the side. I also operate the parish office telephone in case of need. You have to be flexible when you take up the profession.

Interviewer: Do you need a professional training or do you do it as a career changer??

Koster: There is no special vocational training for parish housekeepers. Some are housekeepers, but it's really all career changers.

Interviewer: Can you say something about the earnings of a parish housekeeper?? Is there something like a nationwide tariff??

Koster: No, there is not. It is being worked on at the federal level. It is very different in the different dioceses. In Cologne we are in the middle of the field. But we are also in the process of making improvements, especially with regard to retirement, which will come at some point and which is always difficult for the single woman anyway. You have to be behind the times, and we are behind the times.

Interviewer: You are not only a parish housekeeper, but also the chairwoman of the parish housekeepers here in the archdiocese of Cologne, and in this function you represent the interests of the parish housekeepers. Do you also mediate jobs, or is it a completely different ie?

Koster: But, we have already inquiries. They will then come from the General Vicariate or can also contact us directly at the contact address on the homepage. There are women who come forward who would like to become parish housekeepers. But there are also priests who come forward and say: I am looking for someone. Can you help me?

The interview was conducted by Tobias Fricke.

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