Karen Hammen

Director of the Father Sauer Academy

Picture of Karen Hammen, Director of the Father Sauer Academy

Karen Hammen, the vice principal of St. Peter’s Catholic School in San Francisco’s Mission District, will serve as the director of the new Father Sauer Academy, SI’s new middle school program, starting in July.

A veteran educator, Hammen is steeped in Jesuit tradition. She grew up attending Mass in a Jesuit parish in Missoula, Mont., she went to a Catholic high school that was once run by the Jesuits, she attended College of the Holy Cross, run by the Society of Jesus, and she served as a Jesuit Volunteer in New Orleans after college. She taught at the Sacred Heart Nativity Schools in San Jose sponsored by the Jesuits and led SI students on two immersion trips to Costa Rica in 2008 and 2009. She is currently a member of St. Agnes Parish, run by the Jesuits.

She also brings a decade’s worth of experience working with Latino families in the Bay Area as well as two master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, both from the school’s prestigious Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Program, which led her to teach in McAllen, Texas, and Birmingham, Ala.

Hammen was born in Los Angeles and moved with her parents to Missoula when she was five. Her mother had worked as a nurse, her father as a chemist. With parents working in the sciences, she first planned to become a doctor.

She also befriended the young men and women fresh out of college who worked in Missoula through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. “They first introduced me to notions of AMDG and the magis and showed me what it meant to be a person for and with others. Later, the Ignatian spirituality of my Jesuit parish was given language and meaning studying at Holy Cross.”

After finishing her bachelor’s degree in biology, Hammen opted to spend a year as a Jesuit Volunteer and was assigned to New Orleans, where she worked at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. In Louisiana, she was struck “by the deep racial and economic divisions that exist there. Women who only have high school diplomas feel trapped by their financial situations to stay in abusive relationships.”

She felt drawn to education first by her experience tutoring children in the shelter and later by friends in Notre Dame’s ACE program who were visiting New Orleans. “One morning I woke up and clear as day knew that I wanted to apply for that program and be a teacher at a Catholic school. I wanted to work to create justice and equity.”

Later, she felt drawn to administration and earned a second master’s degree in Notre Dame’s Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program, this time in educational leadership “as I like thinking about how systems run and how cultures and communities work.”

For the past three years, she has worked with the faculty and staff at St. Peter’s in San Francisco’s Mission District to provide an academically rigorous Catholic education to students whose families struggle financially. Many of the parents “were not born in the U.S. Some of them have limited formal education and English language skills. They also face the challenge of earning a living wage for their work. Their struggles are compounded by the rising cost of living in the city, and that has a domino effect on other stresses they experience. I’m proud of our work because we partner with parents to put students on the path to college and open them to a world of possibilities.”

The Father Sauer Academy, she added, “aligns with what is important to me in education. It is a Jesuit, Catholic school that will help lift students out of poverty. It will prepare students to move on to and succeed at SI.”

At. St. Peter’s, Hammen works with a group of respected women in the community, the Madrinas, who help convince prospective parents that St. Peter’s will be a good fit for their children. Her first order of business at the Fr. Sauer Academy will be to reach out to fifth graders and their families. She will work with the current staff and parents of SI to help us reach out to those families in neighborhoods and parishes without Catholic schools. The new students, she added, “will bring their unique gifts to SI as they learn what it means to be for and with others. As they leave SI, I know they will be agents of change in the families, in the community and in the world.”