We are pleased to announce the five finalists for our first-ever San Damiano Servant Leadership Award. Launched in conjunction with our 25th anniversary, this honor recognizes a faithful, service-oriented young leader dedicated to building the kingdom of heaven on earth today.

The winner, who will be announced the first week of February, will be given a $500 scholarship and brought to Washington, DC in May to receive the award at the World Care Benefit and Celebration and network with organizations that share their social justice interests.

While we received many strong applicants, the following finalists were the ones who impressed us the most because of their experience, passion, and perspective.

Marie Hackert

“To see God’s love radiating through people we see as being less fortunate truly humbled my spirit and pushed me to keep serving,” says this senior graphic design and marketing major. Between high school and her college career at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Marie has participated in seven mission trips to the Appalachian region. “It is through service that I have been drawn to live my life every day as a mission to social justice by learning more about the global perspective whether it’s using a reusable water bottle, spreading the importance of respecting life as president of my school’s pro-life club, or attending events to learn and discuss the importance of fair trade in our communities.”

Marie is also a member of Mercy Students for Peace and Justice, served as a student leader on the Quest Retreat for first-year students, and plays on the SXU volleyball team. Her peers describe her as encouraging others to service, leading with confidence and humility, and that “her compassionate, loving energy is contagious.”

Joe Esposito

A product of life-long parochial education, this senior at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio, says his school and family shaped the faith-based world view which drives him to service. “It recognizes that instead of trying to acquire massive amounts of wealth or power, building positive relationships with other people is the primary objective in life,
says Joe. “While it is important to connect with all people, people living in poverty, with an illness, or in any other state of inequity are in special need of these kinds of relationships.”

With a heart for those experiencing homelessness, he is a member of the school’s Habitat for Humanity and the Labre Project, a weekly ministry that shares hot food and snacks while visiting with people in high-need areas of Toledo. This accounting major also serves as the president of the Student Government Association, as an orientation leader, and a career peer mentor. His campus minister describes him as “constantly looking beyond the task at hand in creating new ideas to help the people we serve even better.”Joe is working to establish a program to help those in poverty gain work experience by tearing down the city’s blighted structures in the hopes that the program can be a model for other cities experiencing urban decay.

Emma Laut


“I know that there will always be evil in this world, and through my experiences in service and social change I will never un-see it,” says this senior biology major from Marian University in Indianapolis. “However I am also confident that I am empowered by God’s love and my faith fuels my ability to bring change.” She has worked for this change in her local community as a food fellow at Growing Places Indy, a research intern at Institute for Green and Sustainable Science, as a social justice retreat leader for campus ministry, and active member of the Catholic Worker community. She has recorded over 400 community service hours during her time at Marian.

In addition to leading others alternative break trips to the Navajo community in New Mexico, she has participated in several herself, in addition to a mission trip to Guatemala. One of her mentors describes her as an “inviter” and a “builder” who goes beyond her comfort zone, meets people where they are, and encourages a culture of service. One of her peers says that “Through her simplicity and truly genuine nature, Emma brings joy to all those who surround her.”

Joe Ratay


“While feeding the homeless every Sunday night, I offer a simple ‘have a good night’ upon leaving each person and that, to me, is my most important and favorite prayer,” says this mathematics junior from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Joe is the current president of the school’s St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter, organizing its efforts to provide food, clothing, toiletries and blankets to those experiencing homelessness in Pittsburgh. In addition to encouraging newcomers to the ministry, Joe takes time to emphasize to them and the rest of the group the connection between their service and the Gospel. “By taking away the negative image of the homeless as someone who is a lazy bum, Joe takes another approach and gives them the face of who they really are, and explains their stories to those who don’t know,” says one of his fellow club members. “It is through this simplicity that we as people can begin to walk with our brothers and sisters.”

Joe also has a heart for the other-abled. Through the Emmaus Community he has worked directly with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and through Pittsburgh Blind and Vision Services he has spent three summers assisting visually impaired teens. In August he became a lifetime member of the Hospitalite de Notre Dame de Lourdes after four summers assisting sick pilgrims at the shrine in France.

Anne Mrazik


“For centuries, society has played into the dichotomy of those who are marginalized and those who are not,” says this senior studying Spanish and international relations at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Carrying the principles of human dignity, care for creation, community and participation, dignity in work, peace and reconciliation, and solidarity into one’s mindset and prayer life slowly shatters this dichotomy, uplifts those who have been raised with the belief that they are not equal to others in society, and challenges those who maintain the societal inequality.” Anne has lived out these principals through annual spring break service trips to Virginia and winter mission trips to the Dominic Republic, in addition to her volunteering while studying abroad in Peru.

Closer to campus, she has served in Camden, New Jersey, as an after-school program volunteer and intern with Romero Center Ministries as well as an intern for the university campus ministry’s weekly service program, supporting 350 students in their service journeys. “Through her openness and joy, Anne is able to draw others into her journey in serving others,” says one of her peers. “Words cannot express how much Anne’s leadership has impacted and created a ripple effect to the communities she has served and the individuals that she has interacted with.”

About the San Damiano Award