|Mary Ann Bergerson Ahern had candid advice for young people who
might be seeking a career in broadcast journalism: "Get a strong gut." Ahern, a reporter for NBC 5 News,
spoke at Purdue University North Central Campus Thursday. She warned aspiring television reporters,
"You’ve got to be willing to have people say your hair is too short or your teeth are not straight enough..."
She gets criticism even from her family, Ahern said, as she gestured toward her two brothers and her sister,
her niece and her nephew who were at PNC to hear her presentation.
A Marquette High School graduate who grew up in a house near Stop 18, Ahern said her sister criticizes her
on-air wardrobe. The family at PNC seemed to take the kidding in stride, laughing with Ahern even when she
reminded the audience that her brother, Michael Bergerson, is running for the Democratic nomination for
LaPorte County prosecutor. "That’s B-e-r-g-e-r..." Ahern said, in case anyone needed to know how to spell
the candidate’s name. When Michael Bergerson raised his hand to ask a question, however, Ahern teased
him again: "In 43 years, he has never listened to anything I’ve had to say. Now he wants to ask a question?"
Ahern is the youngest of seven children. Her father died when Ahern was only 10. Her late mother, Mary
Jane Bergerson, was a strong role model for the whole family, Ahern said. She told of trips to the Chicago
museums and of experiences with the Dunes Summer Theater, all initiated and encouraged by her mother,
an English teacher. "I always wanted to be a reporter," Ahern said in an interview. "But I guess I didn’t have
the guts to do it." Instead, she became an English teacher. After earning a degree in English from John
Carroll University, she taught for five years in Chicago and in a suburb. She left teaching to pursue a master’s
degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Ahern has covered national and international events, including the 1996 Democratic National Convention,
Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to Cuba and Princess Diana’s visit to Chicago. She also traveled to Rome
with Cardinal Francis George, head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, when the pope elevated George to the
rank of cardinal. These days, except for those special assignments to Rome and Havana, Ahern works three
days a week. The mother of three young children daughter, Coady, 6, son, Sean, 5 and daughter,
Colleen, 2 Ahern said she and her husband Tom want to spend as much time as possible with the
family. "When I die, I don’t want my tombstone to say, ‘She scooped the pope.’ I want it to say, ‘She raised a
nice family,’ " Ahern said.
Mayor Sheila Brillson, although divorced from Ahern’s brother, remains close to Ahern. "Mary Ann and I met
at college," Brillson said. "Our children are close, especially my Mary and Coady." Brillson called Ahern "a
wonderful mom and a talented professional."
Ahern covers religion for Channel 5. Several years ago, when she was reporting on priests who had been
molesting children, she heard a lot of criticism from people who blamed her for negative reporting.
As a Catholic, Ahern said she felt the pain and shock that other Catholics were feeling. As a journalist, she
knew that it was time to shed some light and some fresh air on the scandal. She said Cardinal Joseph
Bernardin’s panel for investigating charges against priests was the first in the country to include lay people.
Ahern said her recent trip to Havana taught her that Fidel Castro is not the one suffering from the U.S. trade
embargo. "The people are suffering." She said most of the stuff of daily life is in short supply, including
electricity, food, medications and personal hygiene products. Food rationing allows a family one chicken a
month and one dozen eggs a month, she said. The Cuban people do not blame Castro for the shortages.
They blame America, she said.
Despite a little ribbing from Ahern, Michael Bergerson said he was proud of his sister’s program at PNC.
"I’m always very proud of my sister," he said. Ahern’s sister, Ellie Parkerson, a third-grade teacher from
Notre Dame Elementary School, said, "Mary Ann did a wonderful job as always. We are a very, very
close family." No one, including family, criticized Ahern’s crisp red suit or her neatly coiffed hair. Slender and
lively, she gestured frequently and laughed with the audience at herself.
At an event with Pope John Paul II, she said, reporters from around the country were lined up, practically
shoulder to shoulder, all taping at the same time. "If I looked in our camera, I was in Chicago, but if I leaned
to one side or the other, I would be in Baltimore or Minneapolis. When she worked in Atlanta, Ahern said,
she covered politics. She still loves politics, but in Chicago, where there are 2.4 million Catholics, she said,
"Politics? Religion? In Chicago they’re the same thing."