Program to train people to be able to accompany others on spiritual journey.
People who feel a call to go deeper in their religious faith and grow closer to God sometimes seek out guidance from spiritual directors. Often, in the Catholic faith, these guides are priests, but now more and more, spiritual directors can be other lay persons.
Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio has launched a program for Catholics who want to offer spiritual direction to others. The university’s School of Spiritual Direction is “based around a curriculum faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,” according to a university press release.
The SDS was launched after a one-year pilot program began forming 18 men and women as spiritual directors who are now serving communities in the Ohio Valley region, the university said.
“Taking St. John Henry Newman’s motto cor ad cor loquitur—’heart speaks to heart’—as its own, the school aims to cultivate the spiritualization of the interior life and elevation of the soul through prayer in its students, teaching them to help others achieve the same,” the university said.
Robert Siemens, director of the School of Spiritual Direction, said that renewed interest in spiritual direction comes at a time of increasing isolation and loneliness in society.
“I think we’re seeing a greater need for people to walk alongside people,” said Siemens, who, along with his wife, Shannon, graduated from the spiritual direction program at the Lanteri Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Denver, Colorado. “Spiritual directors can meet that demand in the human heart for people to be known and to be loved for who they are. And that’s how people will encounter God.
“This is a program for those who feel called by God to give what they have, which is an interior life of contemplative prayer and love for Our Lord,” Siemens continued. “While ideally applicants should be familiar with spiritual direction and have experienced the exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, they do not necessarily need advanced academic training in theology.”
Siemens’ described the role of a spiritual director as pointing a person toward an encounter with God. That encounter, he told the university magazine “Franciscan,” should enable the directee to enter into a dialogue with Jesus that is authentic, intimate, and ordered to holiness. The magazine said:
As spiritual direction continues, the director helps the directee enter more fully into that dialogue. But at no point, Siemens stresses, does the director take the place of counselor or psychologist.
Accompanying people on a spiritual journey requires formation in prayer, discernment, and the Catholic faith. The SDS aims to provide such formation in a three-year program. Classes will be taught by Robert and Shannon Siemens, Franciscan University theology, catechetics, and counseling professors, and other experts in the spiritual life.
A practicum focused on prayer and discussion will help students discern and act as a conduit of the Holy Spirit working in their directees’ lives. Upon completion of the program, graduates will have access to free, ongoing formation through Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute.