By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

After more than three decades, the St. Joseph Spirituality Center located on the campus of St. Joseph’s Academy is shuttering its Baton Rouge location June 30, or as  outgoing executive director Dianne Hanley said, the center “is concluding but the ministry is continuing.”

Spiritual direction, which has become the greater focus of the center during the past several years, will be administered through churches and will include not only the four remaining lay spiritual directors from St. Joseph but spiritual directors scattered throughout the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

“(The St. Joseph spiritual directors) will also do retreats, so all of the work (of the spiritual center) continues just without the administrative work,” Hanley said.

She said the sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph initially began succession plans for the center, which opened in 1984, five years ago when Sister Cynthia Sabathier CSJ elected to step down as executive director. Hanley said different models were discussed, one of which was closing the center, but a decision was made to hire an executive director, albeit on a part-time basis.

“So they took me on and it’s been wonderful,” said Hanley.

She explained the focus of the spirituality center has more recently evolved into spiritual direction because day retreats and Bible study groups, which formed the foundation of the center’s origin, are increasingly being held at the parish levels.

In June 2018 Hanley informed the sisters of her decision to leave the center, and shortly after the sisters made the decision to effectively close down the center. The sisters asked Hanley to remain another year to direct the transition.

“One of the charisms (of the Congregation of St. Joseph) is train people to do what they need to do and then (move on) to another ministry,” Hanley said. “As (the sisters) looked around, the spiritual directors were lay, and their hope was the parishes, like they did with Bible study groups and retreats, would start recognizing this as something they want in their parishes.”

The center arose from a desire of several women who were looking for a place to deepen their spirituality and attend Bible studies and retreats. Sister Lydia Champagne CSJ agreed and the small group began meeting in Sister Lydia’s house.

But when a cottage became available on the SJA campus, a decision was made to move the center to its current location.

Hanley said that during her interview process after Sister Cynthia retired, she mentioned her involvement in justice work and admitted she did not want to do anything that would “scandalize” the church or the sisters. She said the sisters responded that it was because of her justice work that she was being hired.

“When you think of (the Congregation of St. Joseph), they really are justice minded,” Hanley said. “That’s part of their charism is to change unjust systems, and work on ecology and the earth.”

As part of her own transition, Hanley has founded Spirit and Justice, a nonprofit agency focused on connecting spirituality with justice, which she said “have to be done together. We can’t separate these two.”

Her office is located on the grounds of St. Paul Catholic Church in Baton Rouge with the mission of providing a place where people who are advocates for justice can meet, reflect on their relationship with God and what it’s calling them to do in the world.  She said she had found there are people who go to church to do their spiritual work and then do justice work but don’t often go to church and talk about justice. And she said spirituality is not often discussed in justice environments.

“And that’s what this is,” she said. “It’s a place for people to join in that kind of reflection.”

Hanley said that although the spirituality center is closing the website will be available with information on how those seeking spiritual direction are able to contact the center’s four lay spiritual directors.

Hanley said his spirituality center’s website will be up for a period of time after June 30 with information on how to get in touch with the center’s spiritual director. For more information, visit stjocenter.org