New spiritual directors’ program provides a vital resource for people

Meeting with a spiritual director can help people develop a stronger relationship with God. Finding one in the Diocese of Charleston can be a challenge, however, with only 25 currently serving the entire state.

A program being offered through the Office of Spirituality and Formation for Ministry aims to change that. Clergy and lay people from around the diocese can now apply to study for a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Spring Hill College, a Jesuit institution in Mobile, Ala. 

The first group of spiritual direction students from the diocese, called a cohort, will graduate this summer as certified Catholic spiritual directors. The next cohort will begin meeting one Saturday a month in the fall. The program takes two years to complete. 

The classes are taught by Father Christopher Viscardi, a professor of theology at Spring Hill, who travels to teach in person at Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia twice a semester. The other class sessions connect students with a class in Atlanta by video conference. 

Father Viscardi said spiritual direction is a vital resource for the faithful.

 “Our faith is not just the certain things we believe, but also an encounter with the Lord and the discovery of how God works in us,” Father Viscardi said. “Having a spiritual director helps us connect with the grace of God and the spirit of God, and it is a way of deepening our life of faith and prayer.”

Deacon Tom Whalen of St. Mary Church in Greenville coordinates the program as liaison between Spring Hill and the diocese. He took on the role because he knows spiritual direction can be a game changer when it comes to faith. He and his wife Dorothy both found their lives transformed after they started regular meetings with a director, and they wanted to share this spiritual resource with others. They traveled to Atlanta’s Ignatius House once a month for two years to take classes through Spring Hill and both are now certified.

“A spiritual director tries to listen to where someone is and discover where the Holy Spirit is guiding them,” Deacon Whalen said. “Direction is really the practice of holy listening, and it is all guided by the Holy Spirit. A director tries to offer the person they are working with resources and tools to help them, including prayer, Scripture, practices like lectio divina and other spiritual reading. There is no judgment — it is all about helping the person on their spiritual journey.”

To qualify, applicants should have some background in theology, have completed at least one individually directed Ignatian retreat, and participated in at least one year of ongoing spiritual direction. 

Those interested in becoming part of the next class should contact Deacon Tom Whalen by April 20 at