Equality, joy at heart of parish administrative assistant’s work

| September 23, 2010 | 1 Comment

Parish administrative assistant Margaret Ahles sits inside St. Jerome’s church in Maplewood. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

“Make a good day,” Margaret Ahles’ father used to tell her when he dropped her off at Benilde-St. Margaret’s in St. Louis Park, where she attended high school. Today, she tells her own children the same thing.

They are words she strives to live by, she said, and she applies them to her work as administrative assistant at St. Jerome in Maplewood.

“It’s in the journey,” she said. “The joy is everywhere around you, at every moment, every day.”

And apparently it shows.

“[Ahles] always makes you feel like you are the most important person in the office,” wrote St. Jerome School secretary Nancy McGraw as part of Ahles’ Leading With Faith award nomination.

And for Ahles, who is often a newcomer’s first point of contact with St. Jerome, welcoming others is a beloved part of her work — “just to let people know this is a place of love,” she said. She wants people who join St. Jerome to feel like they’ve come home.

After Ahles, 41, began working at St. Jerome in 2007, the parish business administrator resigned. The parish has not rehired for the position, and Ahles fills the leadership gap, drawing upon 18 years of property management experience.

Purposeful work

Ahles’ parents taught her and her 12 siblings to work hard and treat everyone equally, and those qualities are essential to Ahles’ leadership style today, she said. Joy and laughter are also important, she added.

Because she works for a parish, leading with faith is easy, she said. That wasn’t always the case in her previous work, when she had to confront mangers about unethical business practices, such as unlawfully withholding rental deposits or sketchy record keeping. She once left a job because higher management refused to stop cutting corners in building maintenance.

Property management also required a lot of evening meetings, which took time away from her family. Her frustration with that work grew, and after her parents’ deaths in 2007, she spent six months away from work. During her sabbatical, she applied at St. Jerome, even though the job meant a huge career change, including a 75 percent reduction in pay.

She doesn’t regret her decision,  however. “I have been seeking my whole life [to do] something with purpose and that has real meaning,” she said.

Yet, working at St. Jerome does have challenges, especially in the absence of a business administrator. Ahles took an active role in cutting parish costs and finding savings within its current insurance plan.

She also moderates between parish committees that sometimes differ on how they see a situation, and she tries to provide “the whole picture” to those who may have a limited view, she added.

Ahles also volunteers time to her parish by monitoring the pre-kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school lunch hour and directing the middle school play. The play is her “true passion,” she said. This year she’s planning to do “Peter Pan.”


  • Title: Administrative assistant
  • Parish: St. Jerome, Maplewood
  • Spouse: Michael Ahles
  • Children: Elizabeth and Christopher
  • Activities: St. Jerome School play director, parish fundraiser coordinator, rosary-making group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, women’s softball team


Category: Leading With Faith