In the realms of business, academia, and professional development, mentorship is a common practice. Companies and institutions often use mentoring as a means to provide employees with education, navigation for their field’s challenges, and opportunities to grow in skills and self-awareness. Mentoring is found across disciplines: aspiring social workers intern under the guidance of an experienced supervisor to begin practicing in the field, teaching assistants learn what life as a professor entails, and less experienced business associates are taken under the wing of more experienced employees. Ideally, mentorship provides a space in which a new person is encouraged to find their own identity, and is connected to a larger network of support within a field.
Mentorship does not have to be connected to corporate or professional structures to be helpful; in fact, finding a spiritual mentor can be immensely beneficial to your faith life.
In recent months, the Catholic Church has taken notice of the effective practice of mentorship and preached its value to those who wish to grow in their faith. Furthermore, mentorship has always been present in Catholic tradition: Christians sought the guidance of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the early Church; women and men seeking entrance into religious orders were and still are introduced to a new vocation through the help of formators; and people seeking Baptism or full communion with the Catholic Church continue to be guided into the Catholic Faith through the presence of godparents and sponsors.
Discussions about the application of mentorship to spirituality, especially in regards to Catholic tradition, brought about the term ‘accompaniment.’ Accompaniment is the one-on-one ministry of guidance, wisdom, and friendship between a mentor and mentee, oriented towards growth in relationship with Christ that results in a sense of and response to mission. In other words, through being accompanied by a mentor, the mentee grows in holiness by gaining awareness of her own gifts and the movements of the Holy Spirit in her life; she then responds to this awareness by living as a Christian in an intentional and unique way. The word accompaniment has deeply Christian connotations, hearkening back to the way in which Jesus ministered to and formed his followers in the Gospels.
[T]hrough being accompanied by a mentor, the mentee grows in holiness by gaining awareness of her own gifts and the movements of the Holy Spirit in her life
Accompaniment and spiritual mentoring describe a formative, intentional relationship initiated by the mentee and oriented towards Christ that empower the mentee to live a life of personal mission. Through mutual reflection between mentor and mentee upon divine action in the mentee’s life experiences, the mentee grows in her ability to recognize and respond to the action of God in her life. In accompaniment, a more experienced mentor offers wisdom to a less experienced mentee in a collaborative way, and uses her own life experiences to inform the guidance she offers to her mentee. Seeking a mentor through a relationship of accompaniment can produce substantial fruit in your spiritual life.
Spiritual Mentorship Between Women
Spiritual mentorship between women is a particularly beneficial practice; accompaniment can provide exclusively female spaces of trust, honesty, witness, and authenticity. Through establishing a relationship with a more seasoned Catholic woman, a younger or less spiritually developed Catholic woman can gain wisdom from someone who has “been there” in career, vocation, and/or motherhood. In a culture and Church that can often dismiss women’s voices, female spiritual mentorship creates a context in which women can learn to trust their own voice, solidify their identity, and be affirmed in their value and personhood. Especially in spiritual settings that prioritize the voices and role of men to pass on spiritual teaching and wisdom, a female relationship of accompaniment invites women to grow in authority and ownership of their faith, which then fosters a place for reflection on the Holy Spirit’s activity in the lives of women.
[A] female relationship of accompaniment invites women to grow in authority and ownership of their faith
Spiritual mentorship also provides a means by which women can holistically integrate the different facets of their life. In a woman’s wide variety of day-to-day life experiences - such as being a mother, academic, entrepreneur, friend, daughter, or sister - the Holy Spirit calls to her. With the help of the mentor’s perspective, the mentee can identify the Spirit’s movements and voice that calls to her through relationships, passions and “side-hustles”, personal strengths and weaknesses, wounds and personal failings, and hopes for the future. Accompaniment forms women in their faith and strengthens their relationship with Christ, while empowering them to follow the will of God in all aspects of their life.
How to Find a Spiritual Mentor
If it sounds like spiritual mentoring could be beneficial for you, you might be wondering where to start in finding the right mentor. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Identify what you need.
Ask yourself what it is that you need in a relationship of spiritual mentoring. Do you need help in discerning a big life choice? Are you stuck in your pursuit of doing God’s will? Are you looking for help in a life transition? Do you seek a new way to grow in your faith? Take these questions to prayer and try to be specific as possible when recognizing your needs and hopes for a mentoring relationship.
2. Think of possible mentors.
Based on the needs you identified, brainstorm a few women who you think might be good mentors. If you are discerning a particular life choice, consider women who live the lifestyle, career, or vocation you are considering. If you want to grow more generally in your faith, call your local diocese and ask for a list of women trained in spiritual direction. Ask friends, colleagues, and relatives for women they’d recommend, or email your diocesan young adult office about what you’re hoping for and ask for ideas. If you’re stuck, attend an event where you think you might meet women in person who would be well-suited to mentor you. Seek out Catholic women’s conferences, women’s ministries and groups at parishes or universities, or Catholic networking meet-ups. Finally, make a list of two or three women who would be best suited to assist you.
When considering a mentor, keep in mind their time, availability, and accessibility. For a truly fruitful mentoring relationship, it is ideal find someone who is not overbooked with professional or familial commitments, who is located near you (or willing to mentor you at a distance), and who is someone who you could somewhat easily contact to meet up for coffee or drinks after work. Though you might not know the woman you’d like to ask well, it is also helpful to aim for someone that you feel comfortable being yourself with. Remember: if your first choice of a mentor does not work out, it’s possible to try again!
3. Craft your initial ask.
For many women, asking someone to be their mentor is daunting, as mentorship is a vague word that means different things to different people. You can begin your mentoring relationship slowly with asking for help on specific, concrete things. For example, instead of asking the female Catholic professor you admire to “mentor you” out of the blue, you could visit her during office hours to ask for her feedback or help with research, or you could invite her to coffee and ask for specific advice from her life as a Catholic, female academic.
4. Reflect and evaluate.
Based on the concrete things you asked for in your initial meeting, was the woman you met with helpful? Can you see yourself relating well to her? Do you feel reasonably comfortable voicing questions, doubts, or concerns with her? If not, regroup. Finding a great mentor does not always happen quickly.
5. Craft your mentorship proposal.
If the meeting went well, great! It’s time to think about formulating a “mentorship proposal.” Decide what mentorship means to you, taking into account the needs and goals you identified at the beginning of this process. Think about concrete factors that your possible mentor may ask about. Consider questions such as: What do I mean by spiritual mentorship? To what degree am I comfortable talking about my spirituality and life with someone? How long do I need to be mentored? How often do we meet? What do our meetings look like? How do I bring what I need into the mentoring relationship: is it by checking in each week via email, or coming to our meeting equipped with questions or talking points? What resources might be helpful to us? Are there any connections to resources or people that I would like to ask my mentor for?
6. Pop the question.
After two or three times grabbing coffee or drinks to discuss the specific requests you made, you will hopefully feel more comfortable asking her to be your mentor. Begin by describing your identified needs or goals and your desire to be mentored. Then, clarify what you mean by “mentoring” by indicating things like the length of your relationship and frequency of meetings. Give the person you’re asking time to consider their own availability, if necessary.
7. Begin the relationship
Once you find a mentor who accepts your proposal, set a precedent in the relationship with your active participation. Think of questions and topics of discussion to bring to your meetings, and ask to pray with your mentor. Outside of your meetings, actively engage in your own spiritual growth through prayer, reception of the Sacraments, reflecting on your experiences, involvement in your parish, and service to the marginalized. Be clear in your communication with your mentor and if there is a need to end the mentoring relationship, be upfront and respect their time.
Accompaniment and spiritual mentoring provide a space for Catholic women to grow in faith, be affirmed in their identity and voice, and take an active role in following the Holy Spirit. If you feel stagnant in your spiritual life, are considering a lifestyle or career change, or hope to further develop your unique identity as a Catholic woman, having a spiritual mentor will assist you in seeing God’s plan for you more clearly.
Countless women have transformed the world through their individual gifts, creativity, and witness because they mentored and were themselves mentored spiritually. St. Edith Stein became Catholic after learning about the witness of St. Teresa of Avila. St. Zelie provided a home where her children grew in sanctity. St. Frances of Rome’s example motivated other lay women of her time to serve the poor. St. Joan of Arc was moved to follow God’s will through the prayers and inspiration of Sts. Margaret of Antioch and Catherine of Alexandria. Consider in prayer how God may be inviting you to grow in relationship with His Son through the Holy Spirit through being accompanied by a spiritual mentor.