New program for spiritual directors begins this fall

By Kira Ciupek
Correspondent

There is a common thread that weaves throughout the lives of saints –– they were recipients of spiritual direction and often became spiritual directors for others.
“Thanks to a rich tradition of spiritual direction throughout Christian history, we can draw from the wisdom of great saints such as Ignatius, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, and find that what they taught still has meaning for today,” said Sarah Ramos, a spiritual director in the Austin Diocese since 2004. 
The Institute for Spiritual Direction was spearheaded in 2001 by Bishop Gregory Aymond, and the program was further developed by its first director, Holy Cross Brother Joel Giallanza. In 2012, the institute was moved to Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center in Belton, and Beverly Collin, the assistant director of Cedarbrake, became the director of the Institute for Spiritual Direction. This fall the institute will begin a new two-year training program for those who are discerning the call to become spiritual directors.
“It is now a two-year program involving six weekends each year,” Collin said. “The program includes study, reading, writing book reports, role-playing and other activities.”
Whereas pastoral counseling focuses on emotional or psychological issues that prevent people from leading healthy lives, spiritual directing is the art of Christian listening, and is less about giving answers than asking questions. It is a sacred relationship in which the director has been called by God and trained to be a companion to another person on his or her spiritual journey. Collin said the term, “spiritual direction” is a misnomer “because the real director is always the Holy Spirit.”
Ramos, who has served as Institute team member since 2006, said, “The goal of spiritual direction throughout history has been to know and love God more fully … That is the aim of any Christian, whether she or he lived in a monastic community in earlier days, or lives in the modern world today. Both in early days and in the church today, spiritual directors have one desire — to assist others in their spiritual growth.”
In May Deacon Curt Haffner, who serves St. John the Evangelist Parish in Marble Falls, will graduate from the current program with 22 others. Deacon Haffner, who is also co-founder of Eagle’s Wings Retreat Center in Burnet, said, “Adding spiritual direction within those two calls just makes me more available to those at the retreat center or at the parish as they come to me for guidance.”
Spiritual direction classes focus on various topics such as spiritual practices and disciplines, discernment of spirits, history of spiritual direction and methods of spiritual direction.
“In the training, we try to make it as comprehensive as we can while staying within the Catholic tradition and educating the directors for whatever situation they may find themselves in,” Collin said.
The Institute for Spiritual Direction team includes Jane Bradley, Beverly Collin, Manuel Cortez, Father Jonathan Raia and Sarah Ramos.
“The team is instrumental. I couldn’t do it without them,” Collin said. “Each brings their own unique gifts, and perspectives, which are essential.”
To Collin, spiritual direction is a sacred calling that requires training and discernment. 
“In 1998, I worked as pastoral associate at St. William Parish in Round Rock. I found that people were coming to me to talk about their spiritual lives, their situations and difficulties. I realized I was not equipped to walk with them on their particular journey, and I knew that this was holy ground; this was a sacred ministry. I needed more training,” she said.
Collin attended a spiritual direction program at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery in New Mexico and graduated in 2002.
Jane Bradley, who has served as a team member at the institute for 11 years, and has been a spiritual director for 17, said becoming a spiritual director is a very personal decision.
“The whole course is a discernment process. We all go in saying, ‘let’s discern this as we go along, and see if we think we are called, if our church thinks we are called, and our own spiritual director feels we are called,’” she said.
Anyone interested in attending the two-year formation program is required to have been a practicing Catholic for at least three years, and must complete several other steps, including an interview with the institute team. 
The 2016 two-year program begins in September. Each weekend session begins on a Friday evening and ends at noon on Sunday. Cost for the program is $1,900 per year, which covers lodging, food, materials and a weekend retreat. Each candidate is responsible for obtaining the required books. The application form is available at www.cedarbrake.org. For more information, contact Beverly Collin at (254) 780-2436 or beverly-collin@austindiocese.org.