SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Mary Ellen Hoffman opens a well-organized book of photographs and settles back in a chair in the conference room of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco. For the past two years Hoffman has been assistant to Father John J. Talesfore, rector of the Cathedral of St. Mary.
"These are photos of the trip to Rome we took at the time of the Cardinal’s Consistory in March, 2006," she said. "Bishop Wester took us all on a tour of Rome, and I came to a much more clear understanding and appreciation of the Vatican and all that goes on there. It was also very obvious to me that Bishop Wester is a deeply spiritual man who is very close to God."
Prior to becoming assistant to Fr. Talesfor, Hoffman served as secretary to the Archdiocese’s Council of Priests, and worked closely with Bishop Wester, who, since his ordination as auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese, has served as vicar for clergy.
"I have so many good memories; so warm and lovely," Hoffman said. "He has been my employer – yes – but he also has been like a brother to me."
Last September, as the birthday of Bishop Wester’s executive assistant, Annabelle Groh approached, Hoffman and Groh made plans to have lunch together.
"Annabelle called me that morning to tell me that Bishop Wester had asked if he could join us for lunch.
"We both felt we’d been given a special gift that day," Hoffman said. "We laughed together and told stories. Bishop Wester has a wonderful sense of humor, and by joining us, he showed his remarkable awareness of the situations and the people around him."
Hoffman describes Bishop Wester’s liturgies as especially beautiful and poignant, and his homilies touching and personal.
"He’s very pleasant to work with," she said. "In meetings he jokes to keep things on the lighter side, but his real strength is that he is very pastoral, giving, and humble. He’s not attached to the trappings of his high position. His pastoral approach is always consistent, and it makes it much easier to handle difficult situations. He always asks people about their spouses and families. He’s very caring."
Bishop Wester also possesses strong diplomatic skills, Hoffman said, and he deals well with people of other faiths and of opinions that differ from his own, gifts that will serve him well in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Bishop Wester was instrumental in helping the archdiocese deal with the clergy sex abuse scandal, meeting with victims, and treating everyone involved with dignity and grace," Hoffman said. "Our whole situation during that crisis was made better because of how Bishop Wester handled it."
The bishop’s compassion, she said, carries over in his relationships with his staff, people of other faiths, and people who are in need.
The Wester family enjoys a cabin in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, and retreating there with members of his family is a favorite vacation destination, said Hoffman.
"We all have expected that Bishop Wester would be assigned his own diocese eventually," Hoffman said. "I think it has been wonderful that he has been able to share the last year with Archbishop Niederauer. They have been a very effective pair. We are going to miss him, but the good news is that Salt Lake City is not that far away."