A Nun for Our Times

Faith and Service
May 07, 2014

by Candace Kuebker (B.A. ’78)
Nicole Trahan wasn’t a practicing Catholic growing up, and she didn’t hear about the Marianists until after college. But at age 38, she took final vows and became one of them.

Nicole Trahan

Nicole Trahan’s path to becoming a member of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate — the Marianist sisters — wasn’t direct.

“Religious life was never even a thought in my mind. The sisters I knew seemed so perfect. I wasn’t.”

Although she attended Catholic school through high school and was involved with retreat teams and youth groups, religion didn’t take a prominent place in her family. She didn’t think about becoming a nun.

Trahan (M.A. ’02, M.A. ’11) studied biomedical sciences at Texas A&M University, and she served on liturgical teams and sang in the choir at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the local parish providing campus ministry for the university’s Catholic students. But it was her work at the church’s Catholic Center that she was most passionate about.

“That’s where I got my energy,” she said. “When I was about to graduate, I started thinking about what kind of ministry I could do, but I didn’t know enough.”

In search of the call

Not sure of her life’s direction, Trahan spent the next several years exploring different opportunities in search of what would ignite her passion.

She volunteer-taught several grade levels and disciplines to economically disadvantaged students at a Catholic elementary school in Uvalde for a year. Then, she enrolled in the St. Mary’s University Catholic Leadership Program after a chance meeting with its director and even began a second master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry to bolster her educational background. Trahan began teaching religion at Central Catholic High School around the same time.

“On my first day of graduate class, a lay Marianist named Bob Schmidt came up to me and asked if I knew I was teaching at a Marianist high school. I didn’t know much, but Bob started to tell me about them and it was the beginning of a lesson.”

Though she wasn’t familiar with the Marianists, it was as if Mary was illuminating Trahan’s path all along.

Teaching at Central Catholic, she learned about The Marianist LIFE (Living in Faith Experience) program for high school students — a weeklong immersion in the Marianist charism. She introduced it to her students, but it also brought Trahan closer to finding her own niche. She was invited to join the national LIFE team, and for the next eight years she helped to plan and direct the program.

Saying yes

Still, pursuing religious life was not yet apparent until she returned to the St. Mary’s Catholic Center in College Station and met students considering religious life themselves.

“It struck me that I’d never explored the possibility,” she said. “I was sure I wanted to live my life in ministry, and to do that fully it would have to be my first priority.”

Several things became clear to Trahan as she began to consider religious life in earnest. She realized that, for her, living and praying alone was not “life-giving.” She attended a campus ministry conference attended by many Marianists, and she realized how much she enjoyed them being part of her everyday life.

She went on a discernment retreat in 2005 with a list of reasons religious life would not work for her, but none turned out to be valid. At this point, Trahan had a pretty good idea where she was heading.

Trahan entered the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate as a novice, with some family members voicing concerns about her decision. However, when her family witnessed Trahan taking final vows in the summer of 2013, her oldest sister said, “I finally understand why you did it, and I’m very happy for you.”

A creative time for religious life

Today, Sister Nicole Trahan, F.M.I., teaches religion at Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School in Dayton. She’s also vocations coordinator for all Marianists in Dayton and national vocations director for the sisters.

She acknowledges that in the future it is likely religious congregations will be significantly smaller than they have been in the past, but for her that’s OK.

“It’s not about the numbers. I think we’re entering a more creative time in religious life, with more collaboration between congregations and lay people. That’s hopeful — it’s good to have to think of things in different ways. It’s scary for some, but for me it’s exciting.”

Trahan admits that not many GenXers like her went into religious life because “we were taught individualism, to make our own way.” But she sees more Millennials considering the possibility. She had to leave behind her individualism, but she’s gained a broader worldview.

“Being a religious has expanded my perspective on the world. I’ve traveled a lot more than I ever thought I would and met people from cultures I’d only read about.”

Trahan see herself as the new face of the professed religious? Well, yes and no. “Many people entering religious life now are graduating from college, going out into the world, like I did, and getting work experience. Many are minorities. And many enter religious life for prayer and community life, not necessarily because of the group’s mission. I fit that general trend.” But, she continued, people who consider entering religious life have some things in common, but each person’s path is unique.

“Since taking final vows, my interest in working with young people remains strong. But now there’s permanence and stability that was absent before. It may sound counterintuitive, but stability leads to freedom.”

“Religious life was never even a thought in my mind. The sisters I knew seemed so perfect. I wasn’t.”

Back to top