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Spiritual direction is about 'holy listening,' pointing people to God

Kathy Villemure has served as chaplain to Holy Names sisters.


For spiritual director Kathy Villemure, spiritual direction is more about holy listening and presence than about offering "direction" or advice. It's about accompanying people on their sacred journey.

The paths on that journey may be wonderful or treacherous—steep, rocky or slippery. Sometimes people may feel lost on the journey.

She likened it to a time she and her husband, Dave,  became lost in a village on their pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain five years ago. They were saved by the local police who pointed the way and accompanied them out of town.

"Instead of directing people, we accompany them and point them to God, who is the real director," she said. "We do not tell people what to do. Instead, spiritual direction focuses on how God is present and active in a person's life.

"In contrast, counseling is more about problem solving, and life coaching is more goal oriented," she explained. "If someone is in a dark, scary cave, they may want counseling to get out of the cave. Spiritual direction can help them explore the cave.

"Spiritual direction creates a safe, sacred, confidential space for people to bring their deepest and highest selves and entrust us with their sacred story. We provide a compassionate presence and witness the unfolding of their story," she continued.

When clients tell her their story, it is often the first time they have shared it. When she hears their stories, she holds them in confidence. She listens and lets them articulate their stories. Spiritual direction enhances self-awareness.

Kathy grew up in Spokane and attended Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ as a child. When she married her first husband, who was Catholic, she converted to Catholicism. After living in may places with the military, she moved back to Spokane in the early 1990s where she worked at Gonzaga in student accounts, admissions and university relations while her children were in school.

In 1998, she went to Maui to help her father, who had Alzheimer's and brought him back to Spokane where he died in 1999.

Then she went back to school to finish her studies at Gonzaga, earning a bachelor's degree in religious studies at the age of 50.

Wondering what to do with the degree, she learned Gonzaga was starting a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program.

After she finished CPE and earned a master's in pastoral ministry, Kathy was hired as a hospice chaplain in 2001 in Tri Cities. Two years later, she returned to Spokane and worked as a hospital chaplain with Deaconess Hospital. In 2010, Kathy was hired by Holy Names Sister Mary Ann Farley as chaplain for the Holy Names sisters at their convent. When their convent closed in 2014, they moved to assisted living apartments at what is now South Hill Village. Employees had been given a year's notice that their jobs would be ending.

Kathy then decided to start her own business and went to SNAP's Women's Business Center for training to do that.

She started Inner Spirit, through which she does spiritual direction, drum circles for memory care, retreats, reiki and funeral services, which she saw as a necessary service when she worked for hospice because so many people have no faith community.

Kathy's sees clients in her home office or by Zoom.

In 2015, Sister Mary Ann hired Kathy's business to provide chaplain services one day a week for the sisters who had moved to what is now South Hill Village.

"As a spiritual director, most of what I do is to be present and listen, and reflect back to them what I've heard them say," she explained, adding that clients' journeys often inspire her.

"The sisters are amazing," she said. "They cope well with their limitations, and that makes me less afraid as I begin to face limitations as I age. They are teaching me to age gracefully.

"Their life stories are awe-inspiring," she said, finding a mutual tie. "They are spiritual directors to me."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2024