Media

Award-winning young nun exudes a passion for mission

June 13, 2017| Crux | Link to Article 

 

Sister of Providence Tracey Horan, the winner of the 2017 “Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award” sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, is counter-cultural in many ways -- she's a young member of an aging congregation, and an idealist determined to stand up against what she says is widening doubt that "people have the power to make change.”

Facebook pages sometimes conceal as much as they reveal about a person’s true nature, since many users tend to put their best ‘face’ on social media - especially when privacy settings aren’t applied generously, and anyone can take a peek.

But not everyone engages in such “air-brushing” of their true selves, and looking at Sister Tracey Horan’s Facebook page, it’s clear what she’s about.

One of her latest posts reads: “Grateful for this family’s prophetic witness… Time to end this unlawful practice #niuniamas #Not1more #heretostay #1people1fight” in reference to an immigrant family facing detention. Another advertises a “Vigil to End ICE Detainers.”

There are also several posts with a link to a glowing article written about Horan winning the 2017 “Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award,” sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ program focused on fighting poverty.

There will be a reception on Wednesday in which Horan, a member of the Sisters of Providence since August 2015, will receive the honor during the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Indianapolis.

To be clear, the article about Horan has been posted on her Facebook wall by her many friends, not by her. Instead of recycling praise for herself, she prefers the focus to be on her work helping undocumented people faced with the threat of detention and deportation.

A passion for mission has always been something that attracts her.

A press release from the USCCB states, “Horan is a mission novice with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She currently serves as a community organizer for the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (ICAN) and the Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. In these roles, she has worked to promote the common good alongside immigrants, returning citizens and people living in poverty.”

But that’s the formal language of institutional PR. Horan instead describes the organization she works for, the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN!) and her role within it, as “recognizing gifts of passion which already exist, to create the reality where we recognize the humanity of all people.”

A native of Indianapolis, Horan graduated from the University of Dayton and taught math at a middle school in Texas before returning to Indiana to become an intern at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice run by the Sisters of Providence, where she tended a garden and helped care for the center’s alpacas.

That experience triggered a process of vocational discernment that led Horan to join the order, making her one of only eight sisters in the congregation born in the 1970s or later. She says it’s “both scary and exciting to know that something new and different is emerging,” as the order becomes smaller and takes on new challenges.

Horan is bilingual, well-liked, respected, and deeply dedicated to helping downtrodden people. In her FB photos she comes across as a young and pretty woman, with lots of friends around. There’s no tell-tale religious habit, and the fact that Horan is so young might lead a person to think she couldn’t possibly be a nun.

However, Horan doesn’t see those things as contradictory.

She’s now 29, and entered religious life in 2014. She says her family was “pretty surprised,” but perhaps shouldn’t have been, considering the “Catholic faith is really essential to my family,” and they “didn’t just go to church on Sunday.”

She said she’s always felt “mission-focused,” so the fact that her life went in this direction “doesn’t feel shocking to me, because it’s been an organic process.”

Horan lived for a time with a group of sisters, and it was there she made her decision. She says it was eye-opening to see real nuns in action, and to discover that in reality, they’re like everyone else.

They “watched TV, ate food, and told jokes,” she said, explaining it was the first time she saw what this kind of life could be like in living color.

Their own humanity aside, Horan said it was the sisters’ care for other human beings that was the real influence. She witnessed just how mission-focused these women could be.

This particular community of the Sisters of Charity lived in El Paso, Texas, at the height of a very violent period in Juarez, and these women religious had to decide if crossing the border had simply become too dangerous.

In the course of their communal conversations, they decided as a group that the people they were helping had no choice but to live in violence and poverty. Thus, no matter the danger, they would continue the work they had been doing in Mexico.

While those kind of choices might make other 20-somethings nervous, it only made Horan excited. While other women her age were thinking about marriage and family, she could listen to these religious women making tough and sometimes frightening choices and know “that’s how I want to be when I grow up.”

In a reflection for Global Sisters Report about her experience marching May 1 in “A Day Without Immigrants and Workers” rally in Indianapolis, she says, “I gazed upon the cross and thought about how Jesus was convicted for putting people above the letter of the law, for challenging a status quo that valued some lives over others.”

She writes, “As the power structure in our nation sends the message that black and brown bodies do not deserve the same basic dignity as whites, as families are separated through spikes in incarceration and deportation, as manual laborers among us work three jobs and continue to live in poverty, Jesus’ voice echoes: ‘It shall not be so among you.’”

Immigration is an issue that’s been contentious for years, but now with the Trump administration’s focus on unleashing the full force of ICE, Horan says “there’s a lot of fear and doubt that people have the power to make change.”

She told Crux about “a family we’re walking with right now, where the mom is being detained in Chicago.” Even in such bleak circumstances, she says, “I’m amazed on a daily basis at the strength and courage of people.”

The fact that Horan was chosen for this year’s Bernardin award by the CCHD would suggest that plenty of people are fairly impressed with her own strength and courage too.