This July, Franciscan University’s School of Spiritual Direction welcomed 29 students for its very first Summer Intensive Program. These students may have come to Steubenville from different backgrounds and careers, but they came with the same goal: to serve the Lord and explore whether he might be calling them to accompany others as spiritual directors.

Before attending the School of Spiritual Direction, Ann Marie Bertola ’95 MA ’11 often had people turning to her for advice. The inkling that she might have a charism grew. Despite searching for spiritual direction training, though, she didn’t enroll in one until she found Franciscan’s program.

“If I was going to go somewhere, it would have to be Franciscan,” Bertola says. “It was a blessing to see the same Spirit that I experienced when I was in school here still very much present.”

For two weeks, the spiritual direction students lived and learned on Franciscan’s campus. They immersed themselves in formation, delving deeper into the Catholic faith and learning how to practice accompaniment. This formation didn’t only exist in class presentations. Students also gained hands-on experience in practicums, which Bertola found helpful.

“We learned how to bring someone into deeper relationship with God while in a supportive environment,” she says.

Like Bertola, Adam Dombrovski came to Franciscan’s spiritual direction program after prayer and research. He is currently studying at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and noticed the need for more spiritual directors in today’s Church. Throughout the summer intensive, the support and encouragement from instructors and fellow students has been a gift, he says, as well as being able to regularly attend Mass, go to confession, and pray in eucharistic adoration.

“The Lord’s grace has sustained me,” Dombrovski says. “I don’t know how you could do it without the sacraments.”

After all, the Holy Spirit, not the individual, is ultimately the true director. A spiritual director’s task is to help people encounter Christ and journey with them toward the Lord. The summer intensive students have also walked with each other as a community.

“We’ve been able to cultivate deep friendships in a short amount of time,” Bertola says. “You really get to be attentive to one another.”

Over the upcoming year, the students will begin to direct individuals. They will return to Franciscan next summer to continue their training in the art of spiritual direction. After completing three consecutive summer intensives, they’ll complete their certification.

For those wondering if they should enroll in the School of Spiritual Direction, Dombrovski says they should pray about it, but not worry if they still experience uncertainties. The spiritual tools learned throughout the program can enrich students’ own spiritual lives, vocations, and ministries.

“When you give this time to God, it won’t be a waste,” Dombrovski says. As for Director Robert Siemens ’94 and Associate Director Shannon (Borst ’94) Siemens, who lead the School of Spiritual Direction, he says, “You can tell they put their hearts into it.”

Bertola agrees. “You really feel that they care about you as an individual,” she says. “It’s not just a class. They help us be better servants of God.”

Those interested in the School of Spiritual Direction can download an application for admission online, or email ssd@franciscan.edu for inquiries. Applications are currently being accepted. The next summer intensive for new students will be June 13 to June 27, 2021.

Summer School of Spiritual Direction Profiles Picture

Adam Dombrovski and Ann Marie Bertola ’95 MA ’11