Miriam Mahan, the visionary leader who co-founded Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service and served as its original executive director, unexpectedly passed away on Nov. 27 at age of 72.
Mahan immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 and continued the commitment to social work that her father had instilled in her in her native Cuba. In high school, she founded the “14 Club” with a group of friends to mirror the 14 works of mercy. The club would visit patients with chronic mental illness at a hospital in downtown St. Louis.
Her service in the community continued into adulthood when Mahan would welcome the poor into her home, feed them and give them a place to stay. It was no surprise that she was one of seven leaders chosen to raise funds for a new parish – Sts. Joachim and Ann. Of the funds raised, 10% would be designated for human rights, which was close to Miriam’s heart. The group raised $5,000, and used the 10% as seed money needed to start an agency to help the poor in St. Charles County.
Miriam, along with Father Robert Leibrecht and three volunteers, took that $500 and Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service was born. The agency had its start in 1981 feeding and counseling the poor from volunteers’ kitchen tables, cars and garages. In 1982, Mahan gathered 180 volunteers to help find safe shelter and food for families affected by flooding.
Over the last 39 years, the agency has continued to improve its services, providing more in-depth assistance. Nationally accredited by the Council on Accreditation since 2011, the Care Service is one of the largest, most comprehensive Catholic organizations within the tri-county area, with a nearly $3 million budget and serving 3,612 individuals in 2019. Today, the Care Service provides families and individuals who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless, with comprehensive, direct services through the Care Service’s integrated approach toward establishing long-term family self-sufficiency and community-wide systemic change.
Mahan served as the executive director of the Care Service for 35 years, advocating for the poor and vulnerable. Her coworkers and friends describe her as “brave and fearless in her quest to find funding to help the underprivileged.” Even after she retired as the executive director in 2016, she continued her service for the agency as an active volunteer for the social justice committee, COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) and the Long-Term Recovery Committee.
Mahan possessed a fearless, servant heart but like a lion defending cubs, according to Care Service staff, who say she would fight for anyone unable to fight for themselves.
“She received many awards and accolades in her lifetime of community service but she measured her success in terms of the people whose lives she touched. Her arms were open to all and anyone blessed to have been greeted with her big smile or wrapped in her warm embrace knew what it felt to be cared for and loved,” a press release announcing her passing noted. “Miriam possessed the unique ability to make each person feel like the most important person in the world and in doing so she changed lives with her open mind and heart. Throughout her years of service to the Care Service she guided and mentored staff, teaching them to care for the most vulnerable among us. Miriam’s legacy lives on in the lives she changed and the Care Service organization that continues her work.”