When it came time for Mary Beth Liekhus to make a career move in 2006, she sensed God calling her to make a leap of faith.
With the youngest of her four children attending high school at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park, she wondered if that might be the place for her to work.
After all, she had a degree in elementary education and had worked briefly as a teacher right out of college. But, at age 56, that job seemed like a speck in her rearview mirror.
What wasn’t so small was her love for children. She was just completing her 25th year as a licensed day care provider and had cared for 35 foster children along the way, not to mention raising her own four children with her husband Al, who has worked in maintenance at BSM since 1993.
The first thing she felt God say was to close the day care business, even though she did not have another job secured. Doing so gave her the chance to apply a prayer she has always said for the children in her life:
“May they always walk by the light of faith on the path that leads to eternal life.”
Finding her place
So, in April 2006, with a job at BSM just a mere possibility, she told the parents of her day care business that she was closing. Then, she applied for the job as administrative assistant in the BSM faith formation department to replace someone who was retiring.
Weeks and weeks went by without hearing anything. Then, she scheduled knee replacement surgery for Aug. 15 of that year. In July, the school finally called her for an interview. Then, on the day of the surgery, she received a phone call from the school.
“The morning of my surgery, they offered me the job,” said Liekhus, now 61. “That said to me, ‘This is what God wants you to do.’”
As campus minister Mike Jeremiah, who has been at BSM?for 37 years, points out, it is an easy environment in which to see your job as a vocation. And, not surprisingly, Liekhus views her position as far more than handling the mountains of paperwork and details thrown at her each day.
With her deep and faithful prayer life as an anchor, she remains attentive and ready to minister to everyone who walks through the doorway of her office — students, teachers, parents and others. The chocolates on her desk just inside the office door are merely the greeting she offers to any and all visitors.
“I practice hospitality; I listen with the ears of the heart to adults who come in for a chocolate, but really have a prayer request for our prayer line,” she said, noting that a handful of saints were porters — doorkeepers — including St. Padre Pio.
The school’s prayer line has been particularly active this year. Two long-time employees died during the school year — lunchroom workers Doris Christensen and Betty Rosenow, both 85 and with a combined 98 years at the school.
Then, of course, there was the Jack Jablonski tragedy on Dec. 30, in which the sophomore hockey player was checked into the boards during a junior varsity game and suffered a severe spinal injury.
Liekhus, who graduated from St. Margaret’s Academy in 1968, led the rosary shortly after it happened, as she does every Friday morning before school. That day, 40 students showed up. But she did even more for the fallen student.
“The sophomore retreat occurred not too long after Jack’s accident,” she said. “I sat in the corner and crocheted a prayer shawl for Jack because he should have been there with us. . . . We sent it to the hospital to Jack.”
Living out her faith
He wasn’t the only prayer shawl recipient this year. Liekhus was busy making similar garments for expectant mothers on staff — six of them this year. That, as much as anything, convinces Jeremiah that her job is a vocation.
“She truly lives out her faith,” he said. “She has such a big heart, and such a love for other people, and truly lives out the Gospel message. It’s just who she is.”
That quality tends to draw people to her, including students like senior Karen Valde, who came to see her often and even showed up in the campus ministry office again a few days after her classes had ended.
“She always has a smile on her face when other kids come in,”?said Valde, who plans to study dietetics at Iowa State University this fall.
Nurturing another vocation
Liekhus’ son, Father Jim Liekhus, was ordained in 2005 and, yes, he received encouragement and guidance in his vocation from his mother.
“When he was 12 years old, I looked at that little boy and thought, ‘You have all the right gifts — you’re good with the widows on the corner, you’re wonderful with the kids in my day care,’” she said.
Yet, he resisted her encouragement to go to St. John Vianney College Seminary at the University of St. Thomas. Instead, he wanted to work in the corporate world and raise a family. Eventually, thanks to a visit to the school for BSM’s Vocations Day by Father John Ubel, currently the pastor of St. Agnes in St. Paul who will serve as rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul beginning July 1, for BSM’s
Vocations Day, Father Liekhus chose to enroll at SJV and “never looked back,” his mother said.
She has had the same attitude about working at BSM, even though her hours were cut back at the beginning of this school year. She considered looking for a full-time job, then realized that this was her place.
“I do love it here, and my dear husband, who could have advised me differently, said, ‘If you want to be there, we’ll make it work,’” she said. “When you’re here, and God shines the light on your path, then you walk.”