Hannah Salfer, 22, grew up in the small town of Dassel, about 40 miles south of St. Cloud. She attended Mass regularly as a youth with her family. In high school, she was invited to go on a mission trip with a friend.
“That’s really when I started to dig deeper into my faith,” Salfer said.
For five summers, she continued to go on the mission trip — through Catholic HEART Workcamp, a Christ-centered week of service and caring for others. She also was instrumental in bringing the experience to her parish.
Salfer decided to stay close to home after graduating from high school and chose to attend St. Cloud State University, where she is majoring in elementary education. She plans to graduate in May.
During her freshman year at SCSU, she and a friend saw an ad requesting volunteers to help with a youth group at Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud to work with their SEND program — Seventh, Eighth and Ninth grade Disciples. There, the two women were introduced to Joan Spring, director of campus ministry and parish life.
“She completely took us both in,” Salfer said. “We began to get involved in the community. I really found a home there. I found joy.”
Spring nominated Salfer for The Visitor’s Youth and Young Adult Award and Salfer was chosen as the February winner.
“Hannah is a missionary disciple,” Spring wrote in her nomination letter. “With great joy she searches out those who are lonely, befriends them and leads them to friendship with Christ. She lives to serve and serves with unmatched exuberance.”
Spring, who established Bethany House, an intentional women’s community near campus, invited Salfer to live in the discernment house. Salfer said it was another step in developing her faith life.
“I had the opportunity to pray three mornings a week with my four roommates. We shared in both community and personal prayer. That was really important to be able to start the day and to develop a more personal relationship with God,” Salfer said.
At Bethany, the women ate dinner together at least twice weekly — one dinner with her housemates and one with others from the community. They took turns cooking and inviting people in for a shared meal. They also made it a point to attend daily Mass and weekend liturgies at Newman.
“As you can imagine, there were challenges to living with a houseful of girls. But having the roots of faith and prayer together, it was really beautiful to overcome those challenges and just grow together with each other and closer to Jesus as well,” she said.
In 2016, Salfer was part of a pilot program, “Totus Tuus” which means, “Totally Yours. ” It is a week-long parish mission program established by the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, in which four-person teams of college students spend two weeks training in Illinois and are then sent to their home dioceses where they travel from parish to parish, staying with different host families.
“That was another huge turning point in my faith,” she said. “We had time set aside each day to pray. That’s one thing I learned. Life can get so busy, so devoting that time and that commitment to Jesus and knowing it’s there, and not having to make time for it, I think that’s a huge time that I grew in my faith, too. We relied so much on trusting in Jesus. And, of course, the friendships that grew out of it, too.”
Salfer will be a bridesmaid in her Totus Tuus team member’s wedding.
“Totus Tuus is something I will forever cherish. It left such an important impact on me. It’s probably one of the highlights I will ever have in my life,” she said.
While attending SCSU full time, Salfer was hired as the religious education program coordinator at Newman and also served as a peer minister with college students. She is in charge of the faith formation program for preschool through sixth grade and also leads the children’s Liturgy of the Word during Mass.
“You can learn so much from children,” she said. “That’s the joy of it all for me. Children are so surprising — their faith is so pure. I have grown so much in my own faith by learning from them. Their love for Jesus and their love for learning about Jesus is beautiful. Everyone can learn something from a child.”
Like most people her age, she is discerning what she wants to do when she “grows up.” She is currently student teaching in Eden Valley.
“I really think that I’d love to be a teacher, and I think that’s what my passion is. Part of me thinks I could stay on at Newman, but I’m really still deciding. I think long term I’d like to end up in a teaching position and eventually at a Catholic school,” she said.
Salfer hopes to be a witness to others and share what she’s learned through the challenges of her own life.
“It’s so easy to look to the future and just get completely overwhelmed,” she said. “One thing I have to remind myself is to take it day by day. Every morning I wake up and tell myself that I just need to get through today and accept whatever today has to offer. Give yourself to the day.
“Be present with the people who are around you, especially with the distractions that today’s day and age brings,” she added. “Just try to bring as much joy as you can to people. Be a witness to them that life is OK, and that hard times will get thrown at you, but even though it’s hard, share joy.”
More about Hannah
Hometown: Dassel, Minnesota
Where you live now: St. Cloud
Current parish: Christ Church Newman Church, St. Cloud
School and/or occupation: St. Cloud State University/ religious education coordinator at Christ Church Newman Center
Book on your bedside: “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young
Movie you could watch over and over: “Hannah Montana The Movie”
A saint who inspires you: St. Jude
Favorite app: MN State Standards App — As a future teacher this app was a game-changer for lesson planning
A prayer you love: Hail Mary
A pizza isn’t perfect unless it has: Lots and lots of meat!
If you could be a superhero or cartoon character, you would be: Olaf from [the movie] “Frozen.” He brings so much joy wherever he goes!
Favorite Bible verse or story: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
Let your voice be heard
Q: What is one accomplishment you are most proud of?
Hannah: I am most proud of the completion of my undergraduate classes and teacher preparation exams for my elementary education degree that I will receive in May.
Q: What is one gift you think you bring to the church?
Hannah: Joy and a listening ear.
Q: What is one gift the church could give you?
Hannah: One gift that the church could give is more opportunities for youth and young adults to share their faith and ideas with the broader church community.
Q: If you had the opportunity to talk with Pope Francis, what would you tell him?
Hannah: I would talk with Pope Francis about all the beautiful ways in which he reaches out to the different people of this world. I would also be interested in knowing about his own personal faith and how it came to be.
To nominate a youth or young adult — ages 15-39 — for the YAYA awards, visit
www.stcloudvisitor.org and click on the “YAYA Awards” button to fill out the nomination form. Or call 320-251-3022 to have a form mailed to you.
YAYA nominees should be enthusiastic about their Catholic faith, set a good example for their peers, and be active in their parish.
Each month, a panel from The Visitor will select a winner, who will be featured in the print edition and online.