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Spiritual direction students Lupita Alvarez (left) and Yolanda Berumen 
chat during a break between classes for the School of Spiritual Direction 
Sept. 15, 2023, at St. John Center in Little Rock. File photos/Katie Zakrzewski.

Apply now for diocesan School of Spiritual Direction

Program restarted last year in LR after seven-year hiatus now accepting applications

Published: February 21, 2024      
File photos/Katie Zakrzewski
Father Daniel Velasco teaches first-year students in the School of Spiritual Direction Sept. 15, 2023, at St. John Center in Little Rock.

The Diocese of Little Rock is now accepting applications for the next class of the School of Spiritual Direction, which begins in September. 

In 2023, the Diocese of Little Rock reinstated the School of Spiritual Direction following a seven-year hiatus. The aim is to provide education for students on enhancing their faith, with the expectation they will assist others in their parishes and communities with spiritual growth. Father Daniel Velasco, director of the School of Spiritual Direction, said the three-year program offers monthly classes in English and Spanish at St. John Center in Little Rock.

Applicants must meet several prerequisites to apply to the School of Spiritual Direction, which include:

  • Spending at least one year under spiritual direction prior to beginning the program.
  • Previously attending either a Retreat in Daily Life (RIDL), a 19th Annotation Ignatian retreat or a five-day silent retreat.
  • Being a Catholic in good standing with active membership in a parish.

Father Velasco, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, said the new class size would be limited to 10 to 12 students.

Jeff Hines, diocesan faith formation director, said, “Spiritual direction is a specific discipline of the Church that has particular practices that serve to keep a person within safe and wise parameters, so that the person receiving direction can be confident they are seeking the Holy Spirit's voice, and not the voice of the spiritual director.” 

Hines said answering the call of being a spiritual director is akin to Jesus shepherding his flock. 

“The Gospels tell us, Jesus looked at the crowd and his heart was moved with pity for them — they are like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Jesus is the good shepherd,” he said. “We all find hope in life when we learn to hear his voice and follow him. Jesus, the good shepherd, speaks to us through other people. That's how he chose to do it — to lead us to him through others…

“We all have unique interests, talents and aptitudes — also known as ‘spiritual gifts’ — that he gave us to use to help others hear his voice and follow him. Some of us have spiritual gifts that equip us to accompany others individually into a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit working in their life. These gifts develop during a person's experience of prayer, dialogue and discernment under the guidance of a trained spiritual director. Once a person has been accompanied by a spiritual director, they may discern the call to become a spiritual director themselves.”

Father Velasco said individuals discerning a calling as a spiritual director should listen for God’s voice.

“There’s really an inner call, regardless of one’s current ministry or vocation, in that they have this time to journey with others in their prayer life,” he said. “It’s like walking along somebody’s journey of prayer with Jesus. If (someone) has that calling to be one of those companions, to be that witness of how the Holy Spirit is at work, to grow and to become more aware of God’s love for us,” they should apply to the School of Spiritual Direction. 

Spiritual instruction will be provided by various clergy from all over the state. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will celebrate Mass for the class every September and May, as his schedule allows.

Taffy Council, a parishioner at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton, is in the School of Spiritual Direction’s first cohort.

“I don’t think about it as a three-year commitment … because it really has been such a joy,” she said. “I see how the Lord has prepared me for this over time with the different opportunities to become immersed in Ignatian spirituality. … It’s a prayer commitment, and I’m at a place in my life where I can embrace it.”

Council said she and fellow classmates are surprised at how quickly they’ve grown close to one another. 

“We’ve actually had this discussion in one of our little groups, and we’re all somewhat surprised at how everyone is becoming very close with one another — how we trust each other and are forming a little community and looking forward to more in the coming year.”

Like Father Velasco, Council said applicants should look for God’s voice in discerning a role in spiritual direction.

“I’m open to doors that the Lord wants to open,” Council said. “That had become my prayer — ‘Lord, I know you’re not finished with me…what do you want me to do, whatever or wherever the door is.’ I wanted God’s holy will in my life, and I’ve prayed for that for a long time.”

Father Velasco said spiritual directors are needed in parishes across the state and urged Catholics to consider the School for the opportunity to mentor others in need. 

“I’m a former college athlete, so I know the importance of a coach,” Father Velasco said. “I want the faithful in the parishes to know that there’s such a thing as a spiritual director. … I am hopeful, based on the response (to the first year’s application opening), that we’ll have great candidates.”

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