by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — During one of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s infrequent trips to Rome in June 2009, he visited the Three Fountains — the traditional martyrdom site of St. Paul.
During the hot ride back on the Roman metro, one of his hosts asked him an important question.
“What would you like [the Apostles of the Interior Life] to do for our archdiocese and for you?” asked Sister Susan Pieper, AVI.
“I want you Apostles to come up with a program that will form my people to do what you Apostles of the Interior Life do,” he said without hesitation.
It was the birth of what became the Catholic Spiritual Mentorship Program.
Since the first cohort (or group) was certified in 2013, 248 people have completed the program the Apostles, in conjunction with the archdiocesan- based Holy Family School of Faith, designed for use in the archdiocese.
The most recent group of 72 received their certificates from Archbishop Naumann on Jan. 13 at a Mass at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas. Six more will graduate in May.
The program runs over the course of two years, during which the students study from course materials, online lectures and attend four residential weeks. The courses include basic theology, spiritual formation, discernment, morality, prayer and practical application.
Once they are certified through the Holy Family School of Faith, the new mentors — all volunteers — are available to minister in their parish communities.
The only prerequisites are that the students be Catholic and have received the sacrament of confirmation. A wide variety of people have become mentors.
“We’ve had truck drivers, doctors, airline captains and numerous couples together,” said Sister Susan. “We’ve had one of only 11 priests in the world who are deaf. We have priests. We have loads of permanent deacons from all over the United States.”
And nobody feels the instructors are speaking over their heads — or under, said Sister Susan.
The students of this cohort had many reasons for wanting to become spiritual mentors.
“I’ve been working with a spiritual mentor for the past four years, and I’ve been very pleased with the growth I’ve experienced,” said Denny Dennihan, a member of the Church of the Nativity in Leawood. “My wife has already taken this program, and I decided to take it myself.”
Robin Snyder, a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood, decided to go through the program with his wife Magda.
“I’ve had a spiritual mentor for the past three years,” he said. “I saw there was a need for more spiritual mentors at St. Michael’s. So, my wife and I are going through this together, and we wanted to use it as an experience for the two of us, because we talked with others who had gone through the program together. And we thought it would help our spiritual growth together.”
Some people who’ve graduated have returned to help run the residential weekends.
“The need is tremendous for people to walk with others,” said Russ Engel, a member of the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park who went through the program two years ago.
“As I have been involved in different men’s ministries in the area, I could see that there is a need to help men with their faith and get deeper in their prayer life,” he said. “So, this program gives you the opportunity to learn how to pray and teach people how to pray.”
Katie Locus, consultant to the archdiocesan office of deaf ministry and a member of St. Paul Parish in Olathe, undertook the program because there are not enough spiritual mentors for the deaf. Despite some apprehension, Locus has found everyone very welcoming and the program top-notch.
“These past two years have been mind-blowing,” said Locus. “It’s been beyond my expectations. The theology they get into, and the chance to practice it, and the time for focusing on my spiritual inner life — I’ve already seen the fruits of what I’ve learned helping in my ministry.”
Even though they graduated in 2017, returning spiritual mentors Vicki and Dave Prather, from St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee, found there is always more to learn.
“What’s great about it,” said Vicki, “ is we . . . are growing in our own formation as we sit in on the classes.”
But the schedule is demanding.
“You want to maximize your time here, so you feel like it’s a challenge to get a handle on all the things going on,” said Dave. “This is a lot more than study. It changes your heart and your own approach to life.”
The challenge for new spiritual mentor Marilyn Baker, a member of Our Lady & St. Rose Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, was to learn a new dimension of prayer.
“The most challenging thing for me was not just to pray, but to actually listen to the Holy Spirit,” said Baker, who works for Archbishop Naumann. “There’s a response that’s going to happen in prayer, and before, I did not have that in my life.”
Discernment, too, took some getting used to.
“Discerning is like taking an inward look at who you are — what’s inside the soul of Marilyn,” said Baker. “And that’s difficult because there are things you like and things you don’t like. And there’s a sense of nakedness about it.”
Demand for spiritual mentors has always outstripped supply. Fortunately, the program is taking applications for a new class that will begin on May 18.
Sister Susan urges those who want to apply to do so quickly, because the program usually fills up rapidly.
To apply, go to the Holy Family School of Faith website at: schoolof faith.com. Go to the top of the page and click on the button that says “Programs.” On the pull-down menu click on “Spiritual Mentorship.”
For information, you may contact the program director Cari Hillyer at (913) 310-0014, ext. 10, or by email at: spiritualmentorship@schooloffaith. com.