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Posted at 11:00 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Spokeswoman Susan Gibbs leaves the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, one of the busier PR jobs in town

By The Reliable Source

Susan Gibbs with Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl touring Nationals Park before the 2008 Papal Mass was conducted there. (Nikki Kahn/TWP)

Will anything be the same around here once Gibbs leaves the podium?

You may think we're referring to Robert Gibbs. Ha! In the small pantheon of memorable Washington spokesmen, the White House mouthpiece is a mere short-timer. It's the departure of Susan Gibbs -- after nearly 13 highly visible years as spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington -- that leaves a void.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl may be the official face of Washington Catholicism, but for anyone active behind the scenes, Gibbs has been the name to know, a fierce defender of the church, respected and feared by priests and journalists alike. The D.C. native, 46, is starting her own PR firm after stepping down Friday from what she called "the happiest job of my life." But "this is a job that is seven days a week," she told us. "I've been on call 24 hours a day for 13 years."

Gibbs with and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at a Darfur rally on the Mall in 2006. (Hamil R. Harris/TWP)

Known for writing super-detailed, theology-heavy ­­e-mails, Gibbs shaped the local image of the church through the sexual abuse crisis and landmark events such as Pope Benedict XVI's 2008 visit. She spearheaded one of the archdiocese's most popular ad campaigns -- a back-to-confession movement whose "The Light Is On for You" catchphrase spread to other cities.

She loved the range and intensity of her job, which included a trip to the Vatican with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (then the archbishop) after the death of Pope John Paul II: "There aren't that many jobs where you're dealing with a school opening one day and an international topic the next." But it was also grueling: Gibbs's mother died of cancer midway through the debate over Wuerl's decision to pull spousal health benefits for new Catholic Charities employees rather than offer benefits to same-sex spouses married under D.C.'s new law.

Smiley and shmoozy in person, Gibbs had a magic way of reining in priests and lay people, who would invoke her name and clam up when reporters came calling on controversial matters. But she also impressed colleagues with her ability to remember personal details and for her intense emotional connection to the job.

Gibbs told us her job will be restructured somewhat after she leaves; a new director of communications will also oversee the archdiocese's publications, unlike Gibbs. Meanwhile, she's lined up a first client -- the archdiocese -- and hopes to work with other Catholic organizations as well.

"The Church has been here 2,000 years before me," she said, "so they'll be fine."

By The Reliable Source  | January 10, 2011; 11:00 PM ET
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