by Joe Bollig[email protected]
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – If you’re planning on making that 10-hour drive from Lexington, Kentucky, to northeastern Kansas in the middle of winter, you better have a good reason to.
That’s what Laurie and Brian Henderson did, and it wasn’t for barbecue or to celebrate the Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory.
The Hendersons defied miles and time to participate in a residential week of prayer and study, February 13-18, for the mentorship program at the Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
They had always been active Catholics, but about 10 years ago the Hendersons felt an inner “pull” to seek something more.
“It was natural to seek spiritual direction,” Laurie said. “I’m not wise enough to think I should advise myself. I’ve lived in Texas, upstate New York, northern Virginia, and Kentucky, and it was hard to find anyone who was trained as a spiritual director or mentor.”
Laurie’s brother, Father Brian Nolan in Baltimore, told her about the spiritual mentorship program in the Kansas City Archdiocese in Kansas, something unlike anything he had ever heard of before. The Hendersons joined the program and graduated in 2017 to become spiritual mentors themselves.
“Having the benefit of someone who has been trained to help you hear the Lord’s voice in your life has acted as fuel to change our lives and deepen our relationship with the Lord,” Laurie said. “That’s why we’re big fans of the show.”
They returned last residential week as alumni of the spiritual mentorship program to help train the current group of 75 — or sixth cohort — to also become spiritual mentors.
He had a dream
The catalyst for what would be the spiritual mentorship program occurred in 2009 while Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was on a hot and humid bus ride during one of his infrequent trips to Rome.
Returning from the Tre Fontane, the traditional site of Saint Paul’s martyrdom, his then guest, Sister Susan Pieper of the Apostles of the Inner Life, was inspired to ask him a question.
“What would you like [the Apostles of the Interior Life] what to do for the archdiocese and for you?” she asked.
“I want you Apostles to draw up a program that trains my people to do what you Apostles of the Inner Life do,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Naumann had invited the Apostles to come to the archdiocese to exercise their ministry of offering spiritual guidance to people. There was only one problem: there weren’t enough of them.
Archbishop Naumann has long wanted to activate the universal call to holiness in the Catholics of the archdiocese.
“My dream for the archdiocese is to be able to reawaken a desire for holiness in the hearts of many”, he would later write. “If we are going to be able to succeed in this arena, we will need an army of spiritual mentors who will be trained to help guide and assist others in developing a rich prayer life.”
The male and female communities of the Apostles of the Inner Life, assisted by Father Steve Sotiroff and his own spiritual advisor, the late Eugene H. Wojtowicz, adapted the goals of the Apostles’ ministry to create the Spiritual Mentoring Program. After that, the Holy Family School of Faith, based in the archdiocese, partnered with the Apostles to manage the program.
The first cohort met in 2011 and graduated in 2013. Today, there are approximately 400 graduates of the program spread across the archdiocese, the rest of the United States, and Canada.
Since the Apostles left the archdiocese in 2022, the Holy Family School of Faith has been running the program.
“Their (the apostles) departure forced the hand of divine providence,” said Pieper. “It feels like a movement of the Holy Spirit that forced us to turn to alumni mentors [for help]and they are stepping up in a big way.
Any friend of Jesus . . .
A poetic definition of a spiritual mentor is: “a beggar who tells another beggar where to get bread.”
Of course, there’s more.
“A spiritual mentor is a person who, after nurturing and continuing to nurture their relationship with Jesus — their inner life — turns around and helps another person deepen their relationship and friendship with Jesus,” said Pieper .
Pieper is no longer with the Inner Life Apostles, but instead the “spiritual mother” and spiritual advisor to the spiritual mentoring program, under the auspices of the Holy Family School of Faith Institute.
“The spiritual mentoring program trains people in the spiritual life of the church, according to its teachings and traditions,” said Father Sotiroff, who is the program’s chaplain. “It allows them to teach other people to have an inner life, a spiritual life. And they become other people’s teachers.”
Accompaniment is what the spiritual mentor does, Pieper said. Having become a friend of Christ, the mentor leads another person to that friendship. The spiritual mentor is a guide and companion on the path to holiness by helping the student develop a profound prayer life, sacramental life and life of virtue.
“I’ve had a spiritual mentor for the past six years,” said Scott Kincaid, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawnee. “[I’m doing it for] continuous training. The gifts I received from being with my spiritual mentor, being able to offer that to others, I think would be extraordinary.
“Lessons [my spiritual mentor] receives by giving applies to itself. As spiritual director of my home, as a father, I am involved in training to bring holy parents to my children, with the aim of educating them and making them grow in their own holiness”.
Get the tools to do the job
Each cohort of tutor candidates follows a two-year course of study consisting of residential sessions and distance learning.
The four week-long residential sessions (two per year) are at the Savior Pastoral Center. The themes of the session are: prayer and spirituality; liturgy and sacraments; virtue and the moral life; and discernment.
Distance learning courses are implemented through teaching materials, online lessons and videos. The courses concern the Catechism of the Catholic Church; prayer and spirituality; the New Testament; virtue; the theology of the body; and the history of salvation.
Once certified by the Holy Family School of Faith Institute, new mentors – all volunteers – are available to serve their fellow parishioners. No one pays for tutoring.
Cindi Pickert, financial and administrative director of the Holy Family School of Faith, discovered a surprise during her studies and training.
“The surprise, and it shouldn’t be a surprise, is that we can always deepen our relationship with God,” he said. “It surprises me, and maybe it’s me not setting my expectations for God high enough. I am continually surprised at how further I can grow in my relationship with God.
“One of the strongest pieces of this program is . . . that we are all called to holiness, and this is not said enough. And so when that lens is put in front of us, it’s intimidating. But this program gives us the tools to see that it is possible for everyone to achieve holiness.”
Although he has received training to be ordained as a permanent deacon, Deacon Mark Mies of St. Joseph’s Parish in Shawnee also decided to enter the program to be equipped for mentorship.
“The formation we receive in our archdiocese [to become deacons] it’s surprising, but we don’t spend a lot of time talking specifically about spiritual direction,” he said.
“For the fact that you wear [clerical clothes] and the collar, there are people who ask you for spiritual direction,” he continued. “My only reason for being in the mentorship program is so I can get the tools I need to take the knowledge I’ve been given and integrate it. They teach you good ways to apply this knowledge to spiritual direction.
You can be a mentor too
Who can be a spiritual mentor? Virtually any Catholic, with few qualifications.
“Some people say they could never do spiritual mentorship because they’re not qualified or capable, and I say if you were, we wouldn’t need a program,” Pieper said.
A candidate must be at least 25 years old, live their faith, be a Catholic in good standing, want to accompany others on their journey of faith and be recommended by their parish priest. According to Pieper, 181 graduates of the spiritual mentorship program live in the archdiocese.
Stephanie Jacobson, executive assistant at the Holy Family School of Faith and spiritual mentorship program coordinator, is also a member of the sixth cohort. Demand always outstrips supply of spiritual mentors.
“I get their requests,” Jacobson said. “We often have a waiting list for women. Men are more reluctant. We try to stay up to date, so it’s not a long list.
“There are the formal requests, but the men I talk to want guidance but don’t make formal contact,” said her husband Dan Jacobson, who is also in the sixth cohort. “Just having those conversations with them is helpful in getting them to the point of formally reaching out and getting a mentor.”
The seventh cohort, the class graduating in 2025, has already begun. However, it’s never too late to learn more about the program. To find a spiritual mentor – or become one – go online to: schooloffaith.com, scroll down the page and click on the words “Mentorship: Learn More” or call the Holy Family School of Faith at (913) 310-0014 .