A call to discernment
Tracey Horan knows she’s in the minority.
In September 2014, Tracey, a native of Indianapolis, was welcomed into the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, as a postulant.
The Sisters of Providence currently have more than 300 women religious in their Congregation, with eight women in initial formation. However, the median age of members is 78.
Tracey is only one of two postulants and eight sisters currently in the Congregation who were born in the 1970s or beyond.
There are fewer than 56,000 women religious living in the United States at this time, according to The New York Times, a number that has steadily declined since the 1960s and the conclusion of Vatican II.
But Tracey and the other younger women religious with the Sisters of Providence liken these statistics back to when Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companion sisters traveled from France to Indiana in 1840.
“Sometimes, among the newer members, we joke that we really don’t have to worry until there are fewer than six of us, since that’s how many were in Mother Theodore’s group when they first came to Indiana,” she said. “But look where we are now! At that time, Mother Theodore said, ‘all appearances are against it,’ and I’d imagine that’s how some people feel today when they look at the future of religious life.”
Tracey graduated from the University of Dayton in 2010. Following that, she taught middle school math in Texas before coming to the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to serve as an intern.
While at White Violet Center, Tracey worked in the garden and tended to the alpacas.
Prior to coming back to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, she served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with Indy Hunger Network, where she developed fresh food access and nutrition projects.
But the path of consecrated life called her back to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, even though she’s still contemplating that path.
“I think any Sister of Providence would tell you that at any age, any stage, we are still discerning where and how we are called,” she said. “I’m still not certain, and that’s why I’m here – to learn more about what it means to live this life and whether the energy of the call to religious life resonates with my deepest self.”
Tracey said she felt she needed to take the steps toward consecrated life in May 2013.
“At that time, I had just finished my year-long internship at White Violet Center, and I felt I needed some time away from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to understand what was moving in me,” she said. “I had been discerning with another religious community throughout my internship year, and a visit with those sisters helped to clarify what I was feeling.
“They were able to see in me the spark, the energy and passion I had about the mission and charism of the Sisters of Providence. Their support and affirmation helped open my eyes to the call of Providence.”
Tracey said the Sisters of Providence inspired her to choose her path, as well as the writings of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.
“The women I have encountered have inspired me with their intentionality, their dedication to justice, the depth of their spirituality, their openness to conversion and learning from others,” she said. “Reading Mother Theodore’s story also made a big impression on me. The way she spoke the truth with compassion and cared genuinely for others, even those who challenged her, still calls me to extend the hand more readily.
“I’ve listened to the sisters share how they continue to live their vows – what it means to practice prophetic obedience, live single-heartedly, and be in the right relationship with all. The sisters draw from a sacred presence that is deep and wide, and I am blessed each day to experience that presence in so many of them.”
Tracey admits she and the younger sisters have talked about the community and its current median age. But she said she believes the answer lies within the process of evolution.
“On my tough days, I worry about what this will mean for our community,” she said. “I wonder how our ministries will be impacted … and how I live out my call. On days when I recognize how deep Providence runs here, in these woods, among our Sisters and Providence Associates, and in others who carry our mission in various ways, I realize that we are evolving as Providence intends.
“It is both scary and exciting to know that something new and different is emerging, as it always has been in our history. Who knows what it will look like to be a smaller congregation in the future … but the spirit of Providence will live in us whether we’re 3,000, 300 or 3. And if we ‘lean with all our weight on Providence,’ as Mother Theodore encourages us, I trust we’ll always have what we need to carry on the mission.”