Ritual Music for Prayer and Contemplation

Sanctuary is an ensemble of musicians and artists in the Catholic and Augustinian
spiritual tradition. The late Fr. Shawn Tracy, Dan Mason and friends have turned the words of sacred scripture into songs, hymns and reflective mantras of haunting beauty and lasting impact.

Guitars, piano, synthesizers, and a collection of some of the world's musical and
percussion instruments create a sound-scape over which the human voice sings,
chants, and speaks the stories and prayers of Creation. These song-prayers can be a
source of deep interior reflection for the individual; they can also be an accompaniment to exuberant dance and joyous noise. 

We welcome you to let these rivers of sound ebb and flow and dance within you.
We offer our music at seasonal Evening Prayers, masses, community celebrations,
retreats, and festivals.

The group finds its home within and beyond the far-reaching influence of
Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania.

image of Rev. Thomas Shawn Tracy

Obituary posted in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday, July 25, 2014:

The Rev. Thomas Shawn Tracy, 74, an Augustinian priest in Villanova known for his singing and songwriting, died Sunday, July 20, of congestive heart failure at Lankenau Hospital.

Father Tracy was a gentle, low-key man who saw the Scriptures as poetry, and whose special gift was in setting music to that poetry, and later in creating music as an accompaniment for quiet contemplation, said his nephew Michael Dolan.

Thrust into the New York folk scene of the mid-1960s when he was assigned to St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Father Tracy became a spiritual troubadour. He began writing and playing a folk-inspired style of liturgical music with parishioners from St. Nicholas, and went on to record 10 albums, Dolan said.

During that period, he attended New York Theological Seminary and received a master's degree in pastoral counseling. He became active with a youth ministry, and with another group for the disabled, and brought the two together in spiritual retreats, his nephew said.

Working with the disabled was especially important to Father Tracy. "Shawn showed that all people were valued by God, and he brought joy, music, and companionship to individuals with challenges along their spiritual journey," Dolan said.

In 1975, Father Tracy was assigned to serve in campus ministry at Villanova University. He continued writing music, and brought together his Bronx friends with worshipers at Villanova to create another group called He Shall Be Peace.

In the 1970s and '80s, he rarely went anywhere without his guitar or his Irish setter, Katie O'Toole, said those who knew him.

In 1995, Father Tracy stepped down from the post of campus ministry director to devote more time to music, liturgy, and retreats. He assembled a musical group called Sanctuary, an evolution of He Shall Be Peace. His music changed, becoming an accompaniment for spiritual contemplation, Dolan said.

In 2007, he was assigned to St. Augustine Friary, Villanova. He moved to the Residential Care Center at St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery in December 2013 due to health reasons.

Born in Washington, he graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School there, and from Villanova in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.

Father Tracy pursued theological studies at Augustinian College in Washington for four years ending in 1967. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 19, 1966, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington.

When not ministering, "he enjoyed escaping to nature with a good book, his dog, and his guitar," Dolan said.

Besides his nephew, he is survived by a brother, sister, and other nephews.

A Funeral Mass was celebrated Thursday. Burial was Friday, July 25, at 10:30 a.m. in Calvary Cemetery.

T. Shawn Tracy, O.S.A.
March 6, 1940 – July 20, 2014
Funeral Mass Eulogy: July 24, 2014
By Michael T. Dolan

“All God’s creatures got a place in the choir…”
Am I right, HECers?!
“All God’s creatures got a place in the choir…”
The words come from folk singer Bill Staines, and the HEC community knows them well, thanks to Shawn.
“All God’s creatures got a place in the choir…”

That’s as good a place to start as any, because it’s what Shawn was all about, and it’s why we’re all gathered here this evening. Every one of us – a creature of God – called to sing with our lives. Shawn taught us that, because that is how he lived.He was a simple man. So simple, in fact, that Mr. Roger’s closet held more clothes than Shawn even owned. It begs the question - what to get a man who has no material wants when his birthday or Christmas rolls around? For most of you, it was likely a book or a CD, for Shawn was a man of ideas and music. For his sister, it meant getting him a plaid button down shirt to try to expand his wardrobe just a little bit. More often than not, that plaid shirt would find its way to a nephew, friar or friend the following Christmas… unopened and re-gifted. Any of you who may have received such a shirt from Shawn – perhaps a bit too snug or too big – you can thank Marion Eve.

As a simple man, Shawn had no patience for bureaucracy or red-tape. Love. Inclusion. Acceptance. These and these alone should guide all decisions and all actions. It was just that simple. With that in mind, we can ask ourselves the question: “What Would Shawn Do?” Well, if there were sidewalks that were not handicapped accessible along Lancaster Pike – and it might take months or years of red tape to get this addressed – Shawn might just go out under the cover of darkness and begin laying down asphalt ramps himself. By morning, the asphalt would be hardened and his accomplice could be seen speeding down the Pike to campus in her Lark…
Whether Margie was fleeing from the Radnor police officer who caught Shawn in the act remains unknown.

“What Would Shawn Do?”
Well, if the Archdiocese of Philadelphia made someone jump through hoops and go through a slew of paperwork to
become a Eucharistic Minister, maybe Shawn might turn to humor when completing one of the forms. Which is why,
somewhere in the Archdiocese’s files on Broad Street, there is a certificate signed by Cardinal Krol himself granting a certain Kathleen Tracy the title of Eucharistic Minister. No – this was not for his sister-in-law.
You know her better as Katie O’Toole – Shawn’s red-haired Irish Setter. “All God’s creatures got a place in the choir…”

Shawn loved all God’s creatures, and though he loved all of us too, he needed a break from us every now and again – which is why he would retreat to the woods any chance he could. Katie O’Toole by his side, he needed to recharge. And I think it becomes plain to see why Shawn loved dogs so much – they don’t talk.
Look at all the people here tonight – all the different communities Shawn has welcomed and touched and brought
together with his ministry. Is it not amazing that he did this as a person who craves and needs solitude? As Danny will attest, when a guitar is played too long or too hard, it sometimes needs to be restrung. Being with Sacred Earth was Shawn’s way of restringing himself. And that’s when the music poured forth…

Shawn leaves us with a spiritual soundtrack to accompany our lives. An early 10:15 song comes to mind. It speaks to all of us today, and sums up his ministry of music:
“Here is a song that we want you to hear,
a song that’s made for your eyes.
Here is a song that we want you to sing,
and maybe to sing with your lives.”

For the past nine months, that song was often one of suffering. And yet Shawn dealt with it as he dealt with everything – with a little bit of humor, and a whole lot of acceptance and love. The rare disease that so damaged his heart? It’s called Churg-Strauss Syndrome. Shawn? He had a different name for it. “The doctors are saying I am suffering from Church Stress Syndrome.” Humor. Acceptance. Love.
In February, when Shawn was out of the hospital and it looked like he was on the road to recovery, he remarked in his typical, philosophical, rambling way: “I am grateful for this experience. It’s been wonderful. I have been able to reflect on everything that happened in my life, and everyone who came into it – why they did, and when they did. I can connect the dots. It all makes sense; it all comes together.”

All of you held Shawn close to your hearts during this journey, and we thank you for that. Know that he held you close
to his. I remember sitting side by side with Shawn on a piano bench over 30 years ago. The first song he taught me was the duet “Heart and Soul.” And yet isn’t that what Shawn has done with us all?
He gave us his heart.
He gave us his soul.
And side by side, we joined the choir, God’s creatures all.
Thank you, Shawn, for being you, and for allowing us… to be us.

image of the sanctuary logo

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