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Living and Breathing SLU’s Mission: Senior’s Faith Centers Outreach to Others, On and Off Campus

12/13/2019

When she was exploring her college options, Sophie Rudder wanted to find a place where her faith would be nurtured and supported. 

Awed by the amount of love and dedication she encountered from students, alumni, faculty and staff members, Rudder chose Saint Louis University. Four years later, the graduating senior has embraced SLU’s Jesuit mission and call to live in fellowship and service to others.

Sophie Rudder

Graduating senior Sophie Rudder chose SLU for its academic programs and for the opportunity to grow in her Catholic faith. Four years later, she has embraced the University's Jesuit mission and values in every aspect of her life - through an interdisciplinary set of majors focused on working with those on the margins to building community through service on and off campus. Photo by Amelia Flood

A senior majoring in sociology, Italian studies and international studies with a minor in urban poverty studies, the Hot Springs, Arkansas native has spent her years at SLU as a member of the Micah Program, serving weekly at Caroline Mission and at the City Garden Montessori School.

Rudder is a charter member and counseled others as chaplain of Phi Mu. She has also helped bring prominent speakers to campus as a member of the executive board of SLU’s Great Issues Committee.

She has been a First-Year Experience leader and has hosted prospective students as a Billiken Buddy. For the past three years, Rudder’s has been one of the first faces new Billikens have seen as they have moved in during Fall Welcome – she’s a member of the University’s Oriflamme, the group charged with helping new SLU students feel at home. Beyond Fall Welcome, Rudder, a recipient of SLU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship, has interviewed prospective MLK scholars and participated in service projects through the program.

Her Catholic faith has remained at the heart of her studies and service as she has ministered to others as a liturgy assistant, lector and Eucharistic minister.

Due to her extensive leadership and service on campus, Rudder has been inducted as a member of the Order of Omega, received the Dean's Scholarship from the College of Arts and Sciences, and was honored with the Monahan Award from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology for a spirit of service and leadership within the field of sociology.

Rudder spoke of the ways “living the mission” have shaped not only her college education, but also her plans for life beyond SLU.

Learn more about Sophie' Life of Mission at SLU

In what ways has your service on campus and through your extracurricular activities influenced you?

First, I believe giving my time is the most valuable way I can give back to the University that gave so much to me.

I have loved being a small group leader for Oriflamme and Micah and guiding first-year students through the beginning of their journey here. In addition to that work, I greatly enjoy doing service around and within our SLU community to live out the values that I have been taught throughout my education here.

However, I think “living the mission” goes beyond just being an active participant in service and leadership. Living the mission is in going to get coffee with a freshman who is homesick. Living the mission is having a meaningful conversation with someone experiencing homelessness even though a listening ear is all you might have to offer.

Finally, living the mission is admitting you can’t do it alone. It is in recognizing your limitations and giving others the chance for God to work through them to lead you in the right direction.

Our mission at Saint Louis University is the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and the service of humanity. Living the mission is recognizing that word “pursuit.” It is knowing we are sometimes going to fail and being humble enough to learn from our failures.

I give back to SLU by sometimes succeeding and often times falling short and humbly getting back up to try again.

How do you see what you've learned in the classroom to inform how you work to create community with young people?

What I have learned in the classroom is knowledge to help me decipher right from wrong and the ability to acquire knowledge to guide my current and future decisions.

However, learning how to create a community within our society was not primarily something I learned during in any class, but rather in the people I met and traditions I experienced during my time here. My favorite tradition is the first 9 p.m. Mass of the year. I have had the honor of facilitating that Mass my last two years here at Saint Louis University.

Although the tradition is aided by one faculty member in Campus Ministry, the reasoning behind why this is a SLU tradition is that student leaders and students who attend Mass invite people from other faiths or people outside the SLU community to join them in a night of worship.

The higher purpose of SLU is not necessarily in making a lot of converts to Catholicism, but instead to spread Jesuit values among all people of all colors and creeds so that the world may see itself in unity with one another.

I love the first 9 p.m. Mass as it speaks to the greater good in challenging ourselves to come together to stand for what is right for all humanity, especially for those who are most vulnerable are among us.

In what ways do you see your education and service connecting SLU to the wider St. Louis community and beyond?

Probably the most important thing I have learned about education and service is that when you go into a community, you never know whose heart you are going to touch or how your heart will be touched in return.

Each person has a small piece of God inside of them, and as we encounter and interact with those people, we learn more about who God is and the person he is calling us to be.

These aspects of service apply to everyone and reach far beyond the bounds of SLU or our city.

 

In what ways do your studies in international relations, Italian and sociology speak to urban poverty studies? 

The most basic connection is that poverty can be encountered in any society and can be combated by any person. Poverty is often thought of as a problem to be dealt with rather than a person to be understood. By approaching urban poverty from an understanding of the way in which groups of people and society behave (Sociology) and the cultural norms within that society (International Studies) we can begin to acknowledge the person rather than label it has a problem to be put out of mind.

 

How do you see the education you've received in these areas while at SLU as impactful in the larger world and in your personal life?

In the larger world, these techniques and understandings can then be applied to a real situation such as the migration crisis in Italy (Italian Studies), which I had the opportunity to study and understand while I was abroad.

In my personal life, these lessons have taught me how to act with informed and intentional compassion when encountering people in need of my help but also in educating friends, family or strangers in how to best help those in our community who are most vulnerable.

How has your time at SLU helped you on the path toward becoming the person you want to be in life?

One of the most important lessons I learned at SLU was the concept of “cura personalis.” My time at SLU has showed me that the type of person I wish to become is a wholesome one.

Working as liturgy assistant to help with the masses has strengthened my faith life and brought me closer to God. My struggles with my health taught me how to be humble and to ask for help.

The lessons I learned from classes, friends, mentors and advisors have shown me how to use knowledge as a tool to help others.

I have discovered parts of my identity, my relationship with God has revealed to me that even the parts of myself that I do not like or admire serve a purpose in bringing me closer to God.
Can you tell us about your plans after graduation?

The straightforward answer is simple as I wish to get a graduate degree from SLU. My hope is that I will be accepted into the master of arts in sociology program with an assistantship and continue to aid the department I have fallen in love with as a teacher’s assistant. I would love to continue to help a faculty member with his research regarding the diversity of St. Louis neighborhoods and ways for them to thrive.

Additionally, I hope to offer my experience as a Martin Luther King scholar and to return as an alum in interviewing and selecting new recipients of the scholarship.

The other option is to apply for a master’s degree in nonprofit management.

As I hope to go into the nonprofit sector, I believe my time will still be the most valuable thing I have to offer my university but I hope that one day I will have the stability and financial means to support SLU’s programs financially as well.

My hope would be to donate towards the Micah Program and towards the MLK scholarship as these two institutions at SLU truly shaped me and gave me opportunities I would have never thought possible.

As part of its graduation celebrations, SLU is sharing some of the stories of its graduating seniors as they look back on their college experience and ahead toward their next steps.

Story and interview by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications.