New spiritual directors ready to listen, journey with faithful

By: By Jennifer Willems

Spiritual directors can be hard to come by, so the diocesan Office of the Permanent Diaconate did something to help and wound up making history in the process.

The office partnered with Father Albert Haase, OFM, and Jessie Vicha, both certified spiritual directors and teachers in the Chicago area, to establish a two-year spiritual direction program in the Diocese of Peoria. To the best of their knowledge, it is the first of its kind offered by a diocese or a diaconate community in the United States.

The first class of 15 recently completed the program and received their certificates, and applications are being taken for the second class, which will begin Sept. 10.

“One of the goals, from my point of view, was to form spiritual directors that would serve the diaconate community, both those in formation and the ordained community,” said Msgr. Charles Beebe, episcopal vicar for the permanent diaconate. “We require every deacon in formation to see a spiritual director — their wives also.”

After ordination permanent deacons and their wives are strongly encouraged to continue spiritual direction, he added.

“We were looking for good spiritual directors for our community and there were not that many available. So we established the class,” Msgr. Beebe told The Catholic Post.

“That explains why the first class was fairly well limited to members of the diaconate community and religious, whereas the second one is more open,” he explained.

Several lay people have expressed interest in being part of the new class, according to Sister Diane Vande Voorde, OSF, assistant director of the diaconate office. Part of her ministry is to oversee the spiritual direction program.

The class meets on one Saturday every month at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. Participants also are required to make one silent retreat every year.

They read about one book each month, covering everything from church history to prayer to a sampling of spiritual traditions in the church. In addition, class members are asked to write reflection papers so they can better understand themselves and their relationship with God.

During the second year of the program each participant works with at least one directee.

“They’ve had group spiritual direction sessions and they’ve had peer supervision. They’ve gained the knowledge of the nature of spiritual direction as well as the responsibility of being a spiritual director,” Sister Diane said.

Peer supervision will continue on a bimonthly basis as part of their ongoing formation, she told The Post. These sessions are designed to hold one another accountable as well as offer help if someone is going through a difficult time.

“Overall, I think the biggest skill they taught us was listening — how to be a reflective listener,” said Deacon Bob Hermes, who went through the program with his wife, Shaun. “We’re not just listening to the person we’re talking to, but listening to God at the same time.”

One of the misconceptions he had about spiritual direction is that it was something one person offered another.

“Spiritual direction is two people paying attention to one person’s experience of God,” said Deacon Hermes, who is assigned to Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington. “In that sense, God is the spiritual director.”

“It’s important for people to know that a spiritual director is not a fixer or a problem solver,” explained Deacon William Gray, who is assigned to Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Nauvoo. “A spiritual director is a person that journeys with someone else and helps them to find God in their everyday life.”

“Walking with them as they discern that is such an honor,” according to Shaun Hermes, who said God is definitely “the third person in the room.”

Deacon Gray and his wife, Elaine, used what they learned in class to offer group spiritual direction at Sts. Peter and Paul.

“We were already in a Cursillo group, doing study and prayer,” Elaine said. “We met once a week anyway. So we introduced group spiritual direction to them.”

Eventually the group split in two, with each of the Grays facilitating one of them.

“Father Albert laughed and said we could know that we had brought that to the Diocese of Peoria,” she said.

“It’s a lot of work, but it is incredibly rewarding,” Shaun Hermes said of the class. “I really have to thank the Diocese of Peoria for doing this. They took a leap.”

The new spiritual directors are open to working with people around the diocese and may be contacted through their parishes or motherhouse.
They are:

— Deacon John Burton of St. Joseph’s in Brimfield and St. James in Williamsfield

— Deacon Mark and Mary Jo Cleary of Epiphany in Normal

— Deacon Larry DeCapp and Joyce Heiple of St. Mary’s of Lourdes in Germantown Hills

— Deacon William and Elaine Gray of Sts. Peter and Paul in Nauvoo

— Deacon Bob and Shaun Hermes of Holy Trinity in Bloomington

— Deacon John Holevoet of St. John the Apostle in Woodhull and St. John the Evangelist in Galva

— Deacon Rick Miller of Blessed Sacrament in Morton

— Deacon Robert O’Rourke of St. Malachy’s in Geneseo

— Heading Avenue Franciscan Sisters Linda Burkitt, Betty Jean Haverback and Sarah Roy of Immaculate Conception Convent in West Peoria.

Applications for the new class are available from the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, but must be sent directly to Father Albert and Vicha, who will continue as the instructors. The forms are due by July 1.
For more information or an application, contact Msgr. Beebe or Sister Diane by e-mail at or

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