Sister Mary Tracy’s mission experience includes the 1973 military coup in Chile three years after her arrival there and volunteering as a nurse in West Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982, when she said, “I feel I’ve seen enough of war to last me a lifetime.”
Hailing from Summit Argo, Illinois, Sister Mary entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1957. She spent her first years as a secretary and also working at the U.S. Postal Service office at Maryknoll. After receiving her B.A. degree in community service in 1970, Sister Mary went to Cochabamba, Bolivia, for Spanish language study.
Arriving in Chile, she worked in the southern sector of Santiago in a población called La Bandera. This was undeveloped farmland that was taken over by a large group of homeless families. She worked in a program of alphabetization and did some community organizing until the September 11, 1973, military coup put an end to her work. After taking a practical nursing course at the local public hospital, she worked in several public health clinics in the area and assisted social workers at a refugee center.
Receiving her nursing degree from Columbia University in 1982, Sister Mary responded to an appeal from Church World Services for nurses to volunteer for a three-month period in the understaffed hospitals of West Beirut, a predominantly Muslim sector of the city. Her emergency hospital was located in a parking garage under a 12-story apartment building.
Sister Mary remembers holding a flashlight between her teeth while she changed dressings. “It’s been a great opportunity to meet and work with the Palestinian and Lebanese patients and staff as well as the international staff of volunteers—a wonderful group of people.”
In 1983 when Sister Mary returned to Chile and a población in Santiago named El Castillo, the military government had already decided on a policy of eradication of slums in many parts of the capital. That policy, along with terrible flooding in another part of the city, sent some 50,000 people to El Castillo, where there were no jobs, no schools, no paved roads, no buses, no clinics, and no electricity. Gradually, electricity and buses were put in, and people went to work in other parts of the city.
In the course of the next 13 years, the Sisters worked with families as they set up soup kitchens. At one point, 2,000 people were eating one main meal a day in 13 different soup kitchens. They also had programs of intensive organic gardening, solar fruit dehydration and a knitting cooperative, and collaborated with other groups in health care and community services, including a day care program for indigent elderly persons.
In 1996, Sister Mary worked for two years as the assistant director of nursing at the Maryknoll Residential Care Center, primarily serving in assisted living.
Back in Chile in 1999, Sister Mary worked in a program offering assistance to the indigent elderly in their homes. She also set up a parish group aimed at visiting the sick in their homes.
At the end of 2000, she returned to the United States to care for her own mother at the family home. “This was a privileged time and I was with her until her death in May of 2005.”
Back in Chile, Sister Mary was part of another parish program, visiting the homebound sick and elderly and residents of a nursing home that housed indigent patients. She was also one of the parish Eucharistic Ministers to bring Communion to these same people.
Sister Mary was assigned to continue her missionary life in the Eastern United States Region in November of 2011. She is located in Summit Argo, IL where she taught ESL to Polish-speaking religious women during several years, while also assisting an elderly relative and visiting a few homebound parishioners. The Polish Congregation has since moved out of the parish.
Summit Argo, IL