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Shrine’s Spiritual Companioning Offers ‘Mutual Quest’

Daniel Murray speaks with a woman seeking spiritual direction at St. Anthony Shrine. (Photo courtesy of John Kendall)

BOSTON ­— More than 20 years ago, St. Anthony Shrine began its ministry of spiritual direction. Since September 1997, it has expanded and grown, offering both companionship to directees and satisfaction to those leading the program.

Just over 20 years ago, Sr. Margretta Flanagan, MFC, was hired to establish the Center for Spiritual Direction. Raymond Mann, OFM, our founding father, had been doing spiritual direction since 1991. Over the years, various friars dedicated many hours to this ministry. Among them were John Frambes, OFM, John Hogan, OFM, Michael Joyce, OFM, Barry Langley, OFM, Frank McHugh, OFM, and Brian Smail, OFM.

In addition, religious sisters have been an integral part of the program at the church on Arch Street. Among them were Sr. Linda Greenwood, OSF, and Sr. Marie Puleo, MFIC. Two laymen – Bob Giers and Renee Perreault – have also served St. Anthony’s ministry.

People come for spiritual direction for a variety of reasons and through assorted connections, often through the confessional. Many of our directees feel dissatisfied and confused. I recall one man looking for help because of challenges with addiction. Another was a young man who felt confused about the Church.

Spiritual direction is a way for people to discuss their questions. The sessions – which are held for an hour once a month – complement confession well by offering people a chance to spend more time talking with a friar and to describe their concerns.

From the other perspective, spiritual companioning is an opportunity to journey with an individual as he or she walks with the Lord and gradually discovers and experiences deeper the presence of God within. I prefer to liken it to the journey to Emmaus, which the apostles traveled with Jesus. Slowly and gradually through his or her daily life, the companion begins to answer the question: “Where is God in my experiences of living?”

Several friars shared thoughts on what this ministry means to them.

“Spiritual companioning in the Franciscan tradition is unique,” said Gene Pistacchio, OFM, who coordinates the Shrine’s program. “Like St. Francis of Assisi, we are companions with our brothers and sisters on a mutual quest to discern the presence of God in nature, in ourselves and in all circumstances of our everyday lives regardless of one’s religious, ethnic, racial or economic status.

“This sacred listening ministry is vital today as we seek to reconnect ourselves authentically with one another and with the sacred, divine, compassionate energy that heals and unites everything and everyone to a restored identity in a love beyond all telling,” he added. “Since we believe that God took on human flesh, everything we experience in our life journey is a doorway to the sacred and has the potential to teach us to reverence all life, in its brokenness and beauty so that we may discover the sacred presence in all of creation.”

Spiritual companioning is an invitation to take some time to ‘be’ – to be in a sacred space and to journey with a spiritual companion in an atmosphere of trust and loving presence, recalling that Jesus said, ‘Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.’ Spiritual companioning allows us to meet Christ in our sacred story,” said John Maganzini, OFM.

“I see spiritual direction as journeying with another who is searching to deepen his or her life with God,” said Richard Flaherty, OFM. “Spiritual direction is for me a privilege because each person is seeking how to enrich life with God and others. The ministry of spiritual direction is an important part of my life. I see my own spiritual director every five weeks.”

In the last few years, the Shrine’s ministry has experienced the addition of several women to the team – Carol O’Brien, Nancy Nichols, and Clara Wood also serve as spiritual directors. We have also welcomed another friar, Jacques LaPointe, OFM.

In more than 20 years, many have come through the doors of St. Anthony Shrine seeking to find a deeper relationship with the God whom they love. For each of them, they came seeking. Hopefully, because of the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they have been enriched just as the friars have been enriched by this sacred ministry of listening.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, sums it up well: “Life is the world’s greatest spiritual director.” We can thank God for being a small part in the lives of those who “seek the face of God.”

— Br. Daniel, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., has been stationed at St. Anthony Shrine since 2007. He earned a certificate in spiritual direction in 2009. 

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