Spiritual direction program addresses growing need

LOWELL -- Discussing your encounters with God, confiding in someone trustworthy and receiving feedback is integral to growing in faith, said Sister Linda Greenwood, OSF, but today there are few people who perform this service as spiritual directors. To address this need, Sister Linda, a trained spiritual director, began a certificate program to instruct others to minister to people in the Archdiocese of Boston and beyond. On April 27, 15 enrollees in the program will receive their certification and begin their new roles.

“Adults still need that professional assistance in having someone listen to their own experience of God, and with the shortage of priests and the closing of parishes there aren’t the resources that we used to have,” explained Sister Linda, director of the San Damiano House of Prayer in Lowell. “This program gives lay people and others the opportunity to have this experience and to learn to give it to someone else.”

Sister Linda had received requests for spiritual direction time and time again, but realized she could not respond to them all. This motivated her to begin the spiritual direction program. After several years of consultation and planning, Sister Linda and a team of people comprised of a campus minister, pastoral associate, hospice nurse, and lay associates, rolled out the program in October 2006. Fifteen adults, including men, women, professionals, lay, and religious, enrolled in the two-year program that included an internship and practicum.

“Our main goal was to provide the tools to create some kind of program that would train others to do what I do so that the Church would have a pool of spiritual directors to call on,” explained Sister Linda. “Spiritual direction is so important because for a whole hour you are heard. You share your experience of God and Jesus in your life from last time until now and that movement of God, of faith and doubt, of love and discomfort, in your journey with God.”

As a sister of St. Francis of Assisi, Sister Linda, whose mother house is in Milwaukee, forged an agreement with Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee that would allow her students to be university certified. On April 27 during a Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Tewksbury enrollees in the program will be awarded their certificates.

A student in the program, Sister Janet Deaett, SND, had thought about the spiritual direction ministry many times before enrolling. The opportunity to receive official certification was the motivation she needed. After graduating, she hopes to minister to the people of Lowell by providing days of prayer and possibly retreats.

“The program has been wonderful because it has enabled me to get in deeper touch with my own heart and has deepened my intimacy with God,” said Sister Janet. “I have learned good listening skills and have been exposed to so many different spiritualities. One of the most rewarding parts of the program was to make this journey with 14 other faith-filled and caring people.”

The program received such a positive response and was so successful that Sister Linda began another course in October 2007 with 13 adults and plans to begin another one next fall. For information, contact Sister Linda at 978-441-0988 or visit www.sandamiano-houseofprayer.org.