The long-standing practice of spiritual direction has had an important role in the history of the Church, and is an essential part of the Regnum Christi spiritual life. This is why Regnum Christi has partnered with Divine Mercy University to create the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program, an online program that provides the knowledge, disposition, skills, and supervision that are key to becoming agents for Christian transformation and accompaniment.
For Maria Brackett, Executive Director of the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program, this partnership has been real and productive – within the first two years of the creation of the SDC Program in January of 2019, there have been over one hundred people associated with Regnum Christi enrolled in the program. “Regnum Christi in North America has had the need to have more trained spiritual directors, whether priests, consecrated women and men, or lay people,” says Maria. “The program seeks to meet the need for more professional and trained spiritual directors who, simply put, can help others walk closer to the Lord.”
The skills vital to a prepared and competent spiritual director are many, and for Maria, humility, compassion, and a strong prayer life are the key qualities for a spiritual director to possess. “The skills of listening and empathy, and the attitude of being one who first listens to the Lord in his or her own life are all very important, and are woven throughout the whole program,” says Maria. “The ministry of being a spiritual director is really a hidden service, because it is not about you, it’s about the person being directed and their relationship with the Lord.”
And the need for trained, professional spiritual directors is rising. “When Catholics are seeking spiritual direction, often they cannot find a spiritual director,” says Maria. “Sometimes, they do find a place that does offer the services of spiritual direction, but soon realize that what is offered is more a kind of Christian counselling, or is not given within the context of the rich spiritual heritage and teaching of the Catholic faith. Catholics want to find spiritual directors they can trust as they open the intimacy of their relationship with the Lord.”
This is the need that the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program at Divine Mercy University aims to meet – to prepare and send out professional and trained spiritual directors who are informed by Catholic tradition, the human sciences, and pedagogical experience. The program includes online coursework, two short residencies at DMU, and continued support and supervision. This practice of supervision is a vital component on the SDC Program.
For the SDC student, supervision is both a learning experience and an opportunity to build best practices for when they enter the ministry of spiritual direction. In the SDC Program, as soon as students begin their practicum hours, they are required to participate in group supervision, a group discussion with their peers led by a faculty member of the program. In this setting, the student can speak about what they are experiencing internally as they give spiritual direction, and can be guided in becoming more and more aware of their own interior movements. “This awareness enables the spiritual director to ensure that they are standing in the space that belongs to them in the spiritual direction relationship, and are making the decisions along the way that helps that,” says Maria. The practice of supervision can also allow for moments of consultation about themes and topics, all revealed in an anonymous fashion so as to protect the confidentiality necessary in the spiritual direction relationship.
For SDC graduates, one of the most important components of the program is the framework it provides to nurture a solid and intimate relationship with Christ. “What they tell me again and again is that the program has first been a gift for them and their relationship with the Lord,” says Maria, “and this in turn has made them better spiritual directors.”
One graduate of the SDC Program, and Regnum Christi member, is Teresa Chabot. Teresa lives with her husband, Geoff, of 51 years, in Kalispell, Montana, and is a part of the Pacific Northwest Regnum Christi section. As a member of Regnum Christi for about 24 years, Teresa has held several positions , including Team Leader, Formation Coordinator, and Section Director. Currently, she is spiritual director for ten women, whom she meets in person and online, as well as serving as administrative assistant for RC Spirituality Online Classroom and facilitator for one of the Spiritual Director Supervision Groups. For Teresa, the SDC Program was a life-changing experience that deepened her understanding of what she, in her role as Spiritual Director, was called to be. “As I think back on my skills and comfort at the beginning of the spiritual direction course at DMU, I can see that I did not understand the importance of creating a sacred space in which a person could grown into spiritual maturity,” says Teresa. “I understood spiritual direction as more formation – I am the teacher, and they are the student, and if they would just listen and learn, they would grow closer to God. This didn’t allow for the integrity of the heart or the voice of the Holy Spirit to penetrate the sacred space of the person’s heart.”
Through the course work, journaling assignments, supervision, and residencies, Teresa grew in her understanding, skills, and most of all, humble surrender. “Coming to understand listening as a divine activity, and a virtuous form of self-emptying was a big first step for me, and the greatest take-away from this for me was freedom,” says Teresa. “Being able to help another create sacred space for God to work in their soul by ‘listening with’ and ‘experiencing with’ them and being able to validate creates tremendous freedom.”
Maria knows that she speaks for the entire SDC Program team when she says that working with the students like Teresa, and being able to witness and walk with them through their spiritual growth, is a huge gift. “It’s a chance to meet people who are so dedicated to the Lord, and love him so much and want to help others discover the Lord and his love in their own lives,” says Maria. “Each one of the students – and the applicants, too – is very inspiring to us!”
Maria Brackett has been involved in the ministry of spiritual direction for about twenty years, and now serves as the Executive Director of the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program at Divine Mercy University. Father Robert Presutti, LC, serves as the Formation and Program Development Director for the program. To find out more about the program, check out their online brochure or visit their website at sdc-divinemercy.org