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How do I find and select a spiritual director?

MazeDear Father John, what is the best way to find a Spiritual Director? Should it be your pastor? A friend? Or someone whom you do not know when you begin?

Finding a spiritual director usually follows four steps:

First, you need to remember what spiritual direction is all about. The role of a spiritual director is not to tell you what to do, the way a boss or a military drill sergeant does. Rather, a spiritual director helps you discover and accept what God is doing in your life and what God is asking you to do. Spiritual direction is an ongoing conversation between you, the director, and the Holy Spirit about how you can know, love, and follow Christ more fully.

Second, you need to understand the necessary qualities of a good spiritual director. Objectively, the person needs to be prudent, practical, knowledgeable (about the faith and the spiritual life), and balanced. This is the kind of person who is an excellent listener, and who is not afraid to be honest and demanding with you, and to make sure you are being honest with yourself. The person doesn’t need to be a genius. They should tend to be optimistic without being a polyanna. They should in some way show enthusiasm for the things of God. They need to be someone energetically engaged in their own pursuit of holiness, so that they speak not only from theory, but also from experience. Subjectively, it needs to be someone you can trust – either someone you already trust, or someone who easily and naturally wins your trust during the first few times you meet.

Third, pray. Remember that your Father in heaven “already knows what you need before you ask him.” Your heartfelt desire to go deeper in your spiritual life is already a gift from God. He will guide you towards someone who can help satisfy it.

Fourth, start looking. Usually it is a good idea to start by looking for a priest. The most common way is to come across someone by reference: the recommendation of someone you know, the substantial and helpful preaching that you have consistently heard from him, his written material that has helped you considerably, the priest who spends a lot of time hearing confessions and has shown a pastor’s heart to you in the confessional… By now you are probably already thinking of someone you could ask (it may be your pastor, or a priest friend, or someone you have heard about). If not, try asking around or looking around for a respected retreat director in your area, or an esteemed chaplain at a school. Sometimes retired priests are good candidates.

If someone who is not a priest comes immediately to mind as you think about who to ask (an older lay person, a religious, a professor you once had…), that is fine. John Paul II’s first spiritual director (when he was a college student) was a layman. Generally, a priest will have more spiritual experience himself and a more in-depth theological training, but that is not always the case. If you find a lay person of the same gender as yourself who fits the above description and is willing to mentor you spiritually, great.

Once you find someone (it may take some time), ask them if they would be willing to be your spiritual director, or at least to help guide you in your pursuit of holiness. But remember, even when you have found a spiritual director, you are still the person in charge of your life-project. Sometimes we expect (or want) the spiritual director to do everything for us – all the thinking and all the deciding. Not so. The director is like a consultant. Unless you are taking the initiative, being open and sincere, and responding to the director’s guidance and suggestions with healthy docility, you will end up finding yourself hopping around from director to director in a vain effort to grasp holiness without stepping outside your comfort zone.


Art for this post on how to I find and select a spiritual director — feature image art: Feature Image: Ein ernstes Gespräch (A Serious Conversation), Ludwig Johann Passini, by 1902, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Marie

    Dear Fr. John and Dan:
    I am the author of the “I am new to spiritual direction” posted 10/05/09. I simply wanted to thank you for all your advice and efforts in putting out this website.Your response to that post was extremely helpful and when I finally met with my fairly new director/new pastor and talked through his expectations, my fears and my confusion, all was resolved and everything is going very smoothly. Our last meeting was very powerful and prayerful centering on the gifts and greatness of the Holy Spirit. Since that meeting I have also finished reading the book, Spiritual Progress by Fr. Williams and just received last week The Better Part. Chapter 8 on the Holy Spirit in Spiritual Progress was a turning point. Having just finished the introduction and “how-to” of The Better Part,I am looking forward to diving into the meditations so as to assist me in moving closer to Our Lord and his Holy Mother this Advent.
    I am so eager to meet this month with my spiritual director to share with him The Better Part.I am hoping to also have him review my life program.
    As a response to the current thread regarding writing letters, I have done this on several occasions.For me the whispers of the Holy Spirit are sometimes so awesome and emotional that during my prayer time it is easier to write them down to share with him later than to verbalize it on the spot. Sometimes the Holy spirit leaves me speechless and unable to express what I experienced! This is not an awkward or scary feeling but simply something awesome and profound.
    Anyway, THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing all your efforts.I am so grateful to the Holy Spirit for leading me to this site and will remember you both in my prayers always!! Have a blessed Advent and may our Holy Mother Mary protect you under her mantle always.

  • Andrew

    I know a priest who would be my spiritual director; but he lives about a fifty miles from me and he was the old parish priest until he was moved to another parish. He always gave me spiritual direction everytime I went to serve Mass, at Adoration and the Stations of the Cross; I know it wouldn’t be right to ask him to come back once in a while; because then I would be taking him away from the new parish and the people there. But I know he would come if I asked him; he was the best and most holy man I ever knew in person; besides Jesus in the Eucharist. Should I ask him to come once in a while or what would you recommend on doing? Thanks and God Bless.

    • Dan Burke

      Dear Andrew in Christ,

      Any reason you would not drive to him? Several of our readers drive this kind of distance to meet with good spiritual directors.

      Pax Christi

  • Andrew


    I have not been cleared to drive yet from my fall in June. Him and I have wrote letters to each other and that has helped; but I know talking face to face is better.

    • Dan Burke

      Fantastic Andrew – God provides!

  • Thank you for this blog, God bless you, and please keep me in your prayers. I have a long way to go.

  • Robert Christ

    Dear Fr John,
    Reading your writing here has taken away a quarter of my burden. I have been a Catholic for many years and have spent half my life searching for a Spiritual Director without success. I hope you will not doubt me when I say to you that I have seen our Lord Jesus Christ, Angels and Heaven, not in the dream but by vision. As I pray for explanation He would add another revelation and I now thirst for Him more than a man in the desert thirst for water. I live by faith daily and nothing else excite me unless reading and thinking of Jesus Christ and all the revelations. Please, can you assist me by recommending a Spiritual Director? I shall be pleased to hear from you.

    Yours-in-Christ Jesus.

    Jesus Christ Family Missionary
    Sheffield, UK

  • Stehenleebennett

     I’m a Catholic in rural Texas but go to the Dallas-Ft.Worth area for Doctor’s appointments–can you suggest any priests in that area who might be my spiritual director?

    • My apologies – we don’t have a network available to search for you…

  • Rae Marie

    I am discerning religious life and am having trouble finding a spiritual director who actually adheres to Church teachings. One woman I went to laughed at me when I said the Mass was the sacrifice of Calvary. My spirituality is heavily Eucharistic and this hurt me a lot. I have gone all over the place and to multiple churches trying to find someone with no luck. This is really giving me the impression that the Church doesn’t care about young people who believe they have vocations and it is making me miserable. I have taken to deep prayer and spiritual reading but sometimes I have experiences and no way to figure out what they mean or if they are from God. I am in the Diocese of Orlando and there are spiritual directors who can help me but they all are very far and I’d have to drive at least an hour to meet with them. This is not feasible. My priest says that because I am a woman, I should have a female director and I agree. However there aren’t any female directors- anywhere! Please, if anyone sees this, help me.

    • Dear Rae, I am sorry to hear of your challenging situation. It is not true that a woman must have a woman director though this can sometimes be helpful. You can also find spiritual directors who can meet with you once in person and then you can continue over the phone or via Skype. Check in with the Marian Servants of Divine providence to see if they have someone in your area that has graduated from their school.

      • Rae Marie

        I appreciate it because I’m really at the end of my rope here.

        • Bev Mabry

          I just wanted to wish you good luck! I’m needing someone I can just talk to – director or not – and it’s just really frustrating trying to get your needs met when you’re single.

  • Sheila
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  • Kathleen Egan

    Another thing to consider is whether a person has completed training in spiritual direction. You then also have the Knowledge that he or she has had to pass initial screening and has been supervised in actual practice.

    • LizEst

      It’s not just training that is important, what type of training in spiritual direction is important as well. A director who has not been trained to uphold the teachings of the Church (and the magisterium) is not the kind of director that is desired.

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