We are pleased to announce the 2018 Recipient:

Sarah Bertrand from Xavier University of Louisiana

A phrase that has been constantly used in connection with Sarah Bertrand, junior at Xavier University of Louisiana, is that she is “striving to make this world a more just and humane society.” This quote from the mission statement of Xavier, and attributed to St. Katharine Drexel, founder of the university, encapsulates Sarah’s passion for and experience of servant leadership. Sarah, when reflecting on social justice and her faith said:

“The phrase ‘Catholic bubble’ has always bothered me because the very word ‘Catholic’ means universal. Catholicism is not meant to create an exclusive group, but rather an inclusive community. Reflecting upon servant leadership and the themes of Catholic Social teaching, I realized that these themes are the tools we must use to break the ‘Catholic bubble.’

Taking these themes are her tools, Sarah has participated in service projects and social justice initiatives in her local community in Louisiana as well as in her college community. From working as a volunteer at the University Hospital ER, to community beautification projects in Labadieville, LA, to leading an event called “Pope-yes” that created a space for students to discuss migration and watch the Pope’s launch of the Caritas “Share the Journey” Campaign, Sarah has done it all.

But that’s not all, Sarah has also been an active member of Catholic Relief Services on campus. Through CRS she has organized fair trade tables at Xavier’s University Center and organized immigration talks on campus. Most recently, Sarah has decided to take her passion for service to the global level, organizing a partnership with Honduras Outreach Incorporated. This partnership has culminated in the first ever mission trip at Xavier, that will have 20 students going to Honduras in May of 2018.

View the video component of Sarah’s application below:

2018 San Damiano Award Finalists:

For more inspiration, check out the videos and quotes from our 2018 finalists.

Iliana Mallett (St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX)

Erin Kutch (Iona College, New Rochelle, NY)

From Erin’s application:

“I choose to use the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe and the lesson of the two feet of social justice as an example of how I should aspire to live. For example, I have attended mission trip immersions through Iona to L’Arche, communities that provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers. Through the people I have met and the things I learned at L’Arche I have chosen to do a few different things. I have become engaged with our Iona Chapter of Best Buddies and directly serve this marginalized population and I have also begun serving on Iona’s first ever campus accessibility committee. This committee works to help come up with ideas and advocate for better services for students, faculty, staff and administrators with disabilities.”

Christina Mistretta (Mount St. Mary College, Newburgh, NY)

From Christina’s Application:

“One of the most important aspects of life that both I and the group of students I work with have come to learn is the dignity of the human person.  Through the taking on of projects that involve work with the impoverished, we have learned that a person is a person no matter their situation.  Giving a person the time of day, is an imperative social justice teaching.  In simple terms, at the end of the day every single person is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore created in the image of love.  As human beings, we are put on the earth to love and show righteousness to one another regardless of life circumstances.  All of this, the opportunities that I have been given and now create, is a result of prayer, God’s response, and His opening of a portion of his path for me to me.”

What is the San Damiano Leadership Award?

The San Damiano Servant Leadership Award is an opportunity to honor a dedicated, faithful, service-oriented young leader answering God’s call to “rebuild the Church.”

We launched the San Damiano Servant Leadership Award in conjunction with our organization’s 25th anniversary as yet another way to encourage compassionate servant leaders dedicated to building the kingdom of heaven on earth today. In addition to recognizing an outstanding young person for his or her work, the scholarship and meetings in Washington, DC help to encourage the winner to continue in and deepen his or her commitment to service.

Past Recipients

2017: Mary Grace Donohoe






 “Christ calls us in the Beatitudes to be peacemakers—not just to exist in peaceful societies—[and that] is transformative,” says Mary Grace. About to complete a degree in International Relations and Religious Studies at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, Mary Grace is on fire about her faith, service, and being a peacemaker in her daily life. 

This year’s awardee served on a water-production project with HOPE, Stonehill’s service immersion program in Chacraseca, Nicaragua, where she created a structure that was locally-staffed to empower the community and ensure the project’s sustainability. Working and living alongside migrant farm workers in Apopka, Florida, Mary Grace was inspired by their generosity and courage, saying, “There is a tremendous amount of strength that you don’t really see in many communities when your your life isn’t on the line for your children, your job, or for your family.” Most recently, Mary Grace worked as an administrative assistant at Bridge Women’s Support Center in Queens, New York, where she connected low-income families with food and shelter resources. Read more about our most recent awardee.

2016: Brandon Turner


“My prayer and faith life intersect with my commitment to Catholic Social Teaching because it answers the ‘why.’ Why must we respect the dignity of the human person? Why must we step up to protect the mistreatment of workers? Faith has taught me that in doing so, we imitate and carry on the mission of Christ,” shared Brandon, a senior accounting major at St. John’s University in New York.In 2015, he was chosen as the St. John’s University representative at the Catholic Social Ministries gathering. Brandon is also a musician, and currently coordinates music at multiple churches in his area. For Brandon, this giving attitude and willingness to help wherever he’s needed is part of his nature. “Taking full advantage of the metropolitan and global opportunities St. John’s offers, Brandon has traveled the globe to learn, to serve, and to be an advocate,” said one of Brandon’s mentors. While at St. John’s, Brandon has participated in many service trips, including one to Lourdes, France, as well as a trip to an indigenous Ngobe community.

2015: Emma Laut

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.” Read more about Emma

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