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Care of Earth attracts new members

Tracey-garden-2012-web

Tracey Horan, who recently entered the Sisters of Providence as a postulant, got to know the sisters while serving as an intern at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice in 2012, as shown here.

Who would think that forest and cropland, organic vegetables, harvesting honey and a herd of alpacas could bring young women closer to God and to life as women religious? Yet that’s exactly what’s happening at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (WVC), a ministry of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (SPs).

For three women in the process of becoming Sisters of Providence, the sisters’ commitment to environmental justice has inspired them to consider making the sisters’ way of life their own. Sister Arrianne Whittaker, who made her first temporary vows with the Sisters of Providence last year, learned about WVC when she was volunteering with the Sisters of Providence at their free medical clinic in Terre Haute. She attended a “come and see” weekend with the sisters and visited their eco-justice ministry.

“I remember we had a discussion about Saint Mother Theodore coming to Indiana and her love of nature. She and her sisters built this sustainable community, and it’s the first time I made the connection between the ministry and spirituality and the mission legacy of Mother Theodore.”

“I learned about the changing attitudes toward our patterns of consumption. By the end of my term, I was passionate about it.” When she joined the community, she made a point of learning more about WVC. “I wanted to learn more about how the roots of this center were growing out of the spirituality of the SPs.”

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Sister Arrianne Whitaker, foreground, then a novice sister, joins other volunteers in planting spring crops at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice in 2012.

Called to eco-justice

For Sister Hannah Corbin, also a sister still in her early years with the Congregation, a White Violet Center for Eco-Justice banner at the SP booth at the National Catholic Youth Conference 2005 in Atlanta is what first drew her to the Sisters of Providence. From there she came to volunteer at WVC and the rest is history.

Tracey Horan, who came to community at the end of last year, was living in El Paso, Texas, with the Sisters of Charity, when she learned about a Master’s Degree in Earth Literacy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC). She was getting more interested in environmental justice through a “Just Matters” 8-week series on a faith response to the ecological crisis. She had also shadowed friends as volunteer rangers in area parks. The SMWC program was no longer available, so she checked out the White Violet Center website and applied for an internship.

“Honestly, I thought I’d come to WVC, meet a nice farm boy and settle down. It turned out that all the interns were girls and I was living with nuns, again. God has a way of working things out.”

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Hanna Corbin (now Sister Hannah), above, first came to the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as a volunteer at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. Here she picks peaches as a volunteer in 2006.

Connected to Earth

“When I came to WVC, I was excited because there were so many new things that I didn’t know. Now I have a better understanding of how we are connected to Earth. Creation spirituality is understanding that each creature is a revelation of who God is,” said Tracey. “To have a reverent gratitude when you pull a root vegetable that you saw first as a seed planted in the soil, then watered and fed, then giving up its life so you have life. It connects the cycle of life and death and resurrection. How can that not be spiritual?” added Tracey.

Sister Hannah says, “I learned how eco-justice fits into social justice. What we do to Earth, we do to ourselves, and vice versa. Something lit in me that I didn’t really know was there. I’ve always loved the outdoors and I learned more about God through nature, social justice and living simply.”

Honoring God within

Sister Arrianne would agree. “I’ve learned to honor that piece of God within each person, plant, animal, each part of creation. I want to be gentle when I act, to not diminish or disrespect that Divine spirit,” she said. “Nature is a clear example of the spirituality of love and compassion between my sisters and me. It’s a mutually enlightening and interdependent relationship.”

What would these women say to someone considering life as a religious sister today?

“Come join us. Give it a chance. And spend time with different groups of sisters. Pay attention to those inner movements of the spirit, if you find yourself drawn to a specific community. Find someone to be a spiritual director separate from that community who can be objective,” said Sister Arrianne.

Sister Hannah added, “Take a week, a few weeks or even a month and volunteer. Religious life is relevant today and there is so much beauty in diversity. Find a place where you really do fit.”

“It’s an adventure and it’s constantly evolving. It’s amazing to see the variety of ways that women live out their vows and the mission. I would encourage young women to really explore with an open heart, and interning at White Violet is a great way to start,” said Tracey.

(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Diane Weidenbenner

Diane Weidenbenner is the annual fund manager and donor relations for the Sisters of Providence Mission Advancement office. She's also a Providence Associate.

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