By Celine Klosterman
Sarah Wurst is addicted to service.
A 2011 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, she’s answering her calling to charitable work as she begins a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, helping teach second- and third-graders on the Crow Indian reservation. In St. Xavier, a Montana town of about 60 people, she’s working with Native American staff and three other Jesuit volunteers at Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy, a K-8 school.
The experience offers a way for the native of Grant., Neb., to live out what she learned as a triple major in theology, art and English at St. Ambrose.
“This is exactly what I was writing theology papers about,” the 22-year-old said last week, during her second week in Montana. “In order to fully live your faith, you can study all the theology you want, but it ultimately boils down to Jesus calling us to action.”
Getting a taste of service during her time at the university whet Wurst’s appetite for such action. She has volunteered at Catholic Worker houses and traveled to David, Ky., for a service trip her sophomore year. “I became addicted to community living and what service means,” she said. While spending a couple days at the Oaks of Mamre Catholic Worker house in Davenport in fall 2010, “I had a feeling I could stay in a place like that for a really long time. I felt that’s exactly where I was supposed to be.”
While planning her future, she considered the Peace Corps, but ultimately felt drawn to the Jesuits’ history and theology. “They believe you can find God through any avenue. So if you become a Jesuit, you don’t have to give up whatever else you are. You can be a Jesuit archaeologist, a Jesuit professor.”
Serving in a Native American community appealed to her as well. “I wrote my theology thesis on the Holy Spirit being alive in all the world, especially nature. Those beliefs are in Native American spirituality.”
Wurst said volunteers in St. Xavier work to honor Native American culture while teaching Catholicism.
“We want to be positive role models for the kids. Some of them don’t have good family structures.” In an area where alcohol abuse is common and a county in which 33 percent of children live in poverty, the school emphasizes self-sufficiency. “We want to help students become contributing members of society.”
Eventually, Wurst would like to help solve the problems that make mission schools like Pretty Eagle Catholic Academy necessary. After her yearlong term in St. Xavier is over, she hopes to serve a second year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps before applying to graduate schools to study theology. “I would love to be a professor, and then I’d still have summers to do special projects.”
Loxi Hopkins said she’s thrilled that Wurst sees her future filled with faith and justice. During an internship with Catholic Campaign for Human Development in the Davenport Diocese last year, Wurst grew into a strong leader and organizer, said Hopkins, local CCHD director.
During that internship, Wurst served with Quad Cities Interfaith and worked with a group of student advocates at Central High School in Davenport. It was meaningful to work with the students, “the least of my brothers and sisters, to do all that is in my power as a more privileged person to increase their quality of life, so that they too can have dreams and aspirations,” she said.
Corrine Winter, a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University, noted Wurst’s strengths.
“Sarah is an example of a student who used her time at St. Ambrose to grow in all of the ways listed in our University Mission Statement: intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically and physically. That makes her a truly educated person,” Winter wrote in a column in The Catholic Messenger. “The fact that she appreciates the connections among the various aspects of her life also makes her an excellent representative of the Catholic Tradition.”
(Editor’s note: Watch for columns written by Sarah Wurst in future issues of The Catholic Messenger).