by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sister Susan Pieper, AVI, has a problem.
It’s a good problem to have, admits the superior of the Apostles of the Interior Life. But it’s a problem just the same.
“Our phone is ringing off the hook, she said, “with people asking, ‘Can you be my spiritual director?’”
“More and more people are seeking it,” said Sister Susan.
The growing interest fits right in with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann’s desire for all Catholics to grow in holiness, with the help of “an army of spiritual mentors.”
“These mentors are very qualified to help other people walk the journey, walk the path of holiness,” said Sister Susan.
She just needs more of them.
There was a time, not so long ago, when Ann Marie Alvey needed some guidance on her own journey. Several years spent with a spiritual mentor made a tangible impact on her life — such an impact, in fact, that she wanted to give back in the same way her lay Catholic spiritual guide had given to her.
So Alvey signed up for the first cohort of archdiocesan Catholics to go through the Catholic Spiritual Mentorship program, a collaborative effort of the Apostles of the Interior Life and the School of Faith. When she completed the program, she became one of more than 60 people trained to provide spiritual mentorship to Catholics seeking to deepen their faith.
Members of that first cohort, which wrapped up its two-year training program in January 2013, have been providing spiritual guidance to Catholics within the archdiocese ever since. Members of the second group, formed as the first wrapped up, will go through their final weeklong in-residence session in January.
The spiritual mentorship program is therefore now accepting applications — which should be turned in by Jan. 15 — for a third cohort. Those accepted for the third group will begin distance-learning coursework over the coming months, in preparation for their first in-residence session from May 25-31 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
The program takes participants through eight distance-learning courses, as well as four weeklong intensive in-residence sessions at Savior Pastoral Center.
Meanwhile, participants continue to walk their personal journeys with their own spiritual directors.
Sister Susan knows some people hesitate to apply for this type of program because they feel unqualified to serve others in this way. But they need not worry.
“We equip you to be able to do that,” assured Sister Susan.
And it’s a joy to watch people come into their own during the course of the program, she said.
They practice many scenarios, even down to how to greet the person they’re working with, and are evaluated on their performance.
The initial focus of the program is prayer, and understanding the immense role the Holy Spirit plays in spiritual mentorship.
It’s stressed to everyone from the start that this is not counseling. Participants are given resources and references to point people toward if their needs require assistance beyond spiritual guidance.
They are there, instead, to help people find God in their lives and to accompany them on their journey.
“I see people searching and hungering for a deeper relationship with Jesus,” said Alvey of the people she’s mentored.
Men and women express a desire to grow that relationship with Jesus and to deepen their prayer life and to live out their faith, said Sister Susan.
And that’s what the spiritual guides aim to provide when they meet — generally monthly — face to face.
Sister Susan likens the in-person meetings on the spiritual level to the accountability she recalls from college when Weight Watchers weigh-ins helped students struggling with the “Freshman 15” to be accountable for their progress.
“When you have a spiritual director, you’re accountable to someone about how your spiritual life is going,” she said.
The process of becoming a spiritual mentor in the first cohort has been life-changing for Kevin Beauford, a parishioner of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park.
He’d been feeling a call toward something, but wasn’t sure what.
And then he read an article on the new spiritual mentorship program in The Leaven.
His wife said, “This sounds like you. You should do this.”
But the couple had been hit hard by the economy in 2009, and the price tag — which is $6,000 for the two-year program — seemed daunting.
He followed the advice to trust and do it if he felt truly called to it, and it worked out financially.
The program helped tie all that he’d learned about his faith over the years into one big salvation story — and “we have a role in it,” he said.
Now he meets monthly with the individuals he mentors.
“We just typically go to coffee,” he said, and he likened it to talking with a friend, covering many topics related to spiritual life.
He challenges the people he works with to pray, including about things that are going on in their lives.
Just as spending only one hour a week with his wife wouldn’t develop a strong relationship, one can’t expect giving God merely one hour a week at Mass is going to build a strong relationship, he said.
His own faith has grown, he added, with the help of own spiritual director — his pastor, Father Michael Stubbs — whom he meets with regularly, something he considers essential for someone offering spiritual guidance.
Beauford encourages people who are considering the program to trust in God and to invite honest feedback from friends who know them well.
He sees the Holy Spirit at work in his path to mentorship, he said, from his wife’s words to the moments of grace experienced by members of the cohort during times of intensive courses and prayers.
“You could sense it happening in other people, as well,” he said. “It’s just amazing to actually experience so deeply what you’ve read about and heard about before.”
“The mentorship program is life-changing because you’re not only learning a set of skills, but you are being formed by the Sisters,” agreed Alvey.
“The experience,” she concluded, “it feeds your mind. It feeds your spirit. . . . It feeds your whole person.”
Interested in becoming a spiritual mentor?
Act quickly to ensure your spot in the AVI Catholic Spiritual Mentorship program and to allow ample time to complete prerequisite distance-learning work before the first in-residence session.
Leaders would like to have completed applications for the next cohort by Jan. 15.
Participants work through eight distance-learning courses and also go through four in-residence sessions at Savior Pastoral Center.
The schedule for those sessions is as follows:
Session I: Prayer — May 25-31, 2015
Session II: Liturgy & Sacraments — Jan. 4-10, 2016
Session III: Virtue and the Moral Life — May 23-29, 2016
Session IV: Discernment and Practicum — Jan. 9-15, 2017
The cost is $1,500 per session — $6,000 for the two-year program — and that includes the course materials, room and board.
A digital booklet about the program is available on the School of Faith website, as is the application.
There is a $30 application fee and an interview.
The materials can be found online at: www.schooloffaith.com. Click on “Spiritual Mentorship.”
The School of Faith may be reached at (913) 310-0014, or general questions may be directed to: SpiritualMentorship@schooloffaith.com.
Information is also available on the Apostles of the Interior Life website at: www.en.apostlesofil.com.