BY SR. ANN MARY BRANGAN CCVI
In August of 2022, I took part in a graduation ceremony amid a Eucharist Celebration and celebratory meal at the historical New Orleans Archdiocesan Retreat Center in Metairie, Louisiana to become a certified spiritual director and a retreat director in Ignatian Spirituality. A CCVI community member, Sr. Annastacia Mutiso from Kenya who had never visited New Orleans before, traveled with me and we were hosted at the church community of Holy Rosary in St. Amant, LA. This seemed to be the end of a journey, but where was the beginning?
When I was asked to write this article, I was puzzled as to what the emphasis and focus should be, so I went back in memory to several years ago. I had been working as a chaplain and pastoral counselor at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, Alexandria, LA. The Mission Vice-President asked if I would work with some of the chaplains in spiritual direction. I did my first work in spiritual direction previously at a Jesuit University in California many years before. I felt the need to get an up-date, and therefore I contacted Grand Coteau’s Spirituality Center and asked for suggestions for spirituality today and any new suggestions on spiritual direction.
They suggested the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center in New Orleans as the place to obtain new training and to be recognized as a certified spiritual director/retreat director in Ignatian Spirituality. As part of a two-year internship, I started working with chaplains, people from the churches, then some of the clergy of the diocese and afterwards, from an ecumenical perspective, some of the ministers of other denominations. While a challenge, it was also a wonderful adventure as to the Lord working in the lives of pastoral workers in the state of Louisiana.
I consider it a miracle of miracles, to have found this wonderful program in Louisiana and to have been accepted into its internship program. It began for me as a two-year practicum program under the direction of ASC Director, Dorothy Trosclair, O.P. and Wendy Enloe, MA. (Creighton University) as part of the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center. I was the last intern accepted into this group of intern-directors who had already spent a year doing the 19th Annotated 34-week program of the Spiritual Exercises. Because I had done a 30-Day retreat previously, I did not complete the 19th Annotated although we were to study it in detail as we progressed through the studies. It would take a full two years and a formal internship working with directees and giving retreats as a spiritual director in order to complete this program and be certified. I found it a truly captivating program!
What was the core of the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center (ASC) Program? Basically, the core is the realization that Spiritual Direction should be distinguished from teaching, counseling and faith companioning. What distinguishes it is the development of a faith conversation with the goal and purpose of discernment. A spiritual director journeys with individuals on a path with the specific purpose of the individual developing a deepening relationship with the Holy One and growing in a greater awareness of God’s Presence in their lives. This awareness of intimacy with the Lord creates the situation of spiritual direction.
As I look over this time, one of the very spiritually rewarding areas was with individuals who were true seekers of the Lord’s Word and the Holy Presence. While I was fascinated with God working in my life the challenge in spiritual direction was helping different individuals recognize the divine movement specifically in each one’s own life, the life of the directee.
The other intern-directors with me in the program work in various church organizations such as retreat centers, college pastoral programs, or they have parish leadership roles always working in direct contact with members of their church congregations or organizations. Three of us work in other sites outside of Louisiana and hopefully the influence of this wonderful program will extend to many other areas that need spiritual directors and retreat directors.