Franciscan Sister Mary Antonette (Rita) Ahles, 99, died April 13 at St. Francis Convent in Little Falls. A memorial Mass to celebrate her life will be held at a later time.
Rita Ahles was born March 14, 1921, in Bluegrass, the 11th of 12 children born to Joseph and Elizabeth (Nett) Ahles. She started first grade in Bluegrass in 1927 and in 1930, the family moved to Kerman, California, where she completed grammar school. She attended St. Francis High School in Little Falls.
On Dec. 8, 1936, Rita entered St. Francis Convent and received the name Sister Mary Antonette. She was the sixth member of the Ahles family to join the Franciscan Sisters and her brother, Jerry, became a Franciscan friar in California.
Sister Antonette received her RN diploma at St. Francis School of Nursing in Breckenridge, took post-graduate studies and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1955. She served as an instructor at St. Francis School of Nursing, Breckenridge, and at St. Gabriel’s School of Nursing, Little Falls. She earned a master’s degree in public health nursing in 1964.
In her ministry, Sister Antonette utilized her gifts in nursing, nursing education, home health, pastoral care and migrant ministry. As a pioneer in providing health care to migrant farm workers, she was part of a program initiated in 1969 by women religious to set up clinics in areas where migrants worked in the fields. She was a public health nurse in Nacogdoches, Texas; a staff educator and pastoral minister at Sacred Heart Home, Plattsburgh, New York; and also did pastoral ministry at Holy Family Parish in Chimayo, New Mexico. Later she served as development director for the Franciscan Sisters.
She was preceded in death by her parents and siblings: Franciscan Sister Assumpta, Norbert, Frank, Franciscan Sister Lucina, Paul, Melchior, Franciscan Sister Dolores, Franciscan Sister Theophane, Franciscan Father Jerome, Raymond and Franciscan Sister Joanne. Survivors include nieces and nephews and her Franciscan Community.