Victoria Schnurr is learning how to mesh her faith with the rest of her life - even if some people think that isn't the coolest thing for a high-school student to do.

Openness about religious beliefs is "something that's lost nowadays," she said.

Victoria, a senior at Colonie Central High School and parishioner at St. Clare's Church in Colonie, said she had an "eye-opening experience" at the National Catholic Youth Conference last fall: "Just seeing all these people - they were so open. It made me feel more comfortable.

"It was a great way to meet people from all over America who believe the same things I do," she continued. "We were like one big family - all 25,000 of us."

Prior to the trip, "I was kind of, like, lost," she said. "I didn't know how to involve myself in both worlds. I felt like I had to keep it so separate."

Teacher, leader
The three-day event inspired her to live her faith more candidly, attend the diocesan Christian Leadership Institute for teens and take on more ministries at church - most recently, as a catechist for a second-grade faith formation class. She had been an aide for third-grade catechists since eighth grade.

The sense of community she felt at NCYC and CLI "gives me purpose," she said. "When I teach my second-graders, it's something I want them to have, too. I feel like I can teach them better now that I know how to do it myself."

With her faith formation class, Victoria finds she has more control over the presentation of material and her students can relate better to her than to adult teachers. After all, she's still in school, and "I still have to listen to my parents."

Scouts and charities
The 17-year-old, who's in several clubs at school, hopes to study biology and pre-med in college and end up in the medical field.

Since sixth grade, she's competed in "bonspiels" in the sport of curling - an activity introduced to her by the Girl Scouts, of which she's been a member since age six. She fondly recalled planning camping trips, working at charitable events and playing the role of "Glitter the elf" at Toys for Tots Christmas events. She has also attended other leadership events similar to NCYC.

As part of St. Clare's youth ministry, Victoria grows food for the parish's food pantry and helps out at a local soup kitchen.

"You get a sense of how lucky you are - all of the things that I get to have that some people don't," she said of her volunteer activities. "I just enjoy all the different people I get to meet. It gives me a different perspective because of all the different viewpoints I get to hear and see."

At the altar
The teen also gets a unique perspective as an altar server, a role she's played since middle school.

"It gives me a sense of awe, how all those people are hearing the same things and taking it differently," she said. "Most people my age feel like they can't do it anymore. I feel very privileged that I've gotten the chance to do this for so long."

Victoria hopes to become a eucharistic minister or lector as an adult. She says her faith "grounds" her and has helped her through the loss of many relatives: God "acts in all these different ways. Sometimes, you don't stop to think about it every day. I know that He's with them. Them being gone is helping me grow as a person."

When asked about her goals for the future, Victoria is quick to mention her students: "[I want them] to feel like they can accept this faith and get something out of it, just like I have."

She initially became a catechist aide to fulfill a community service requirement for religion class. She stayed because "I just got more out of it than I expected."