UIW Students Receive Awards from Mission and Ministry and the Archdiocese of San Antonio

May 10, 2024

Special thanks to Camille Piper, University Mission and Ministry Graduate Assistant, for her collaboration on this article.

As a Catholic academic institution committed to educational excellence in a context of faith in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, the University is proud to watch its student body also contribute to this system-wide Mission.

Every year, UIW Mission and Ministry presents the Ecumenical and Interfaith Student Award to a student who has made significant contributions in leadership and service to ecumenical and interfaith activities on campus. This year’s award recipient is Kahli Villanueva.

Villanueva entered UIW in the fall of 2023 as an undergraduate, pre-pharmacy, first-year student and came to work in the Office of Mission and Ministry as a work study. She has since become an active participant in Campus Ministry.

Villanueva’s campus contributions that earned her this notable recognition include being a member of BREATHE, the campus's Young Adult Catholic and women’s faith group, Fiat, and serving as a student lector at daily campus Mass and other liturgical services. She also volunteers as hospitality minister for UIW's Baccalaureate Mass and as a reader at Ecumenical and Interfaith services.

Villanueva has participated in Salve and Spiritus faith formation retreats and attended the Oblate School of Theology’s 10th Anniversary Sankofa Institute, Come, Taste & See Conference Series, where she, along with other students, learned how to foster initiative-focused faith, develop skills to become a transformational leader within a multi-cultural Christian community and shape a sustainable future for our communities and the world.

One of the goals Sr. Walter Maher, CCVI, vice president of University Mission and Ministry, set out to accomplish during the 2023-2024 academic school year was to reactivate the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Chapter at the University. Villanueva was instrumental in that endeavor, serving as secretary for UIW's newly revived CRS chapter. In this role, she worked with the Ettling Center for Civic Leadership and Sustainability on interfaith collaborations for civic engagement, racial equity and environmental stewardship.

“Kahil has shown herself to be an effective leader, and an example to our campus community of Christian unity and interreligious relationships,” shared Bishop Trevor Alexander, Protestant chaplain and adjunct faculty at UIW, at her award presentation. “She lives out the Mission of our University as she continues to help welcome to our UIW community persons of diverse backgrounds, in the belief that their respectful interaction advances the discovery of truth, mutual understanding, self-realization and the common good.”

Villanueva wore an honored smile as she was congratulated by her campus community, family and friends.

"It was an honor receiving the Ecumenical Interfaith Student Award,” expressed Villanueva. “I am so grateful for the Mission and Ministry team. They’ve been supportive and caring from the moment I stepped into the office. I cannot think of a better way to wrap up my first year at UIW!" 


Additionally, three other UIW students were presented with awards by the Archdiocese of San Antonio through UIW's Campus Ministry Department and S.A.I.N.T. Schools (San Antonio Intercollegiate Networking Team). 

The De Corazon a Corazon Award is given to a Catholic student who has contributed in an outstanding way to the faith life of the community by having a heart for ministry and service. This year's recipient is Lanai Johnson (pictured to the left-hand side of the first picture), a UIW Biology major and an ecumenical and interfaith peer intern.

Johnson serves as the public relations officer for Catholic Relief Services on UIW's campus. She reaches out to other organizations to collaborate and help promote Sr. Walter's goal of raising awareness of the University’s Mission through faith, social justice and solidarity.

The Outstanding Newmanite Award is given to Catholic students who contribute to the faith life of the community in an exemplary way and encourage others to become involved in the ministry of the faith community. This year’s recipients included Sneha Varghese (pictured in the middle of the first picture), UIW Data Science major, and Alondra Rodriguez (pictured to the right-hand side of the first picture), UIW Accounting major.

Varghese has been involved with Mission and Ministry since she came to UIW in 2016. She is a volunteer altar server who prepares Our Lady's Chapel for daily noon Mass, and a member of the Environment Team in which she assists in preparing the chapel for the liturgical seasons, volunteers as a student lector and serves in multiple roles at other liturgical services.

As the current president of the CRS chapter at UIW, she champions Sr. Walter's vision of engaging students in social justice through faith. She represented the University doing advocacy work in the U.S. nation's Capital, speaking with senators on issues that affect Texas and the nation as a whole. 

Rodriguez has served Mission and Ministry in several roles during her time as a student. She is a member of BREATHE and serves as a student lector for liturgical service. In addition, she has served as a Music Ministry intern for three years, historian for the Cardinal Chorale, Music Ministry social media director and Music Ministry graduate student.

During the pandemic, Rodiguez was instrumental in organizing and launching the St. Isadore Ministry, an online ministry as part of the Ps 98 Music Ministry. This ministry helped preserve a sense of unity and assisted in keeping the UIW campus community connected.

The end of the academic year is a time to recognize the remarkable contributions of students who embody the institution's commitment to faith, service, and leadership. As they prepare to embark on new endeavors, their impact serves as a reminder of the transformative power of service and inclusivity within the University and beyond. Congratulations to the award recipients!