By the time you read this, Fr. Tim Knepper, C.PP.S., should be halfway through an intensive course on becoming a spiritual director. It requires a lot of reading and a fair amount of writing, which

Fr. Tim was dreading because, as he puts it, “my writing skills are horrible.”

The four-week in-person-course, in Tucson, is offered in two sessions. It began in late January and will conclude in March.

A retreat to the desert to read, listen and learn could be exactly the right step for Fr. Tim, now in his tenth year of parish ministry at Dayton’s Northwest Catholic Community. He feels the need for renewal, to reach for new skills that will help him in his life as a priest and a Missionary.

“I’m in a class of 16. It’s a diverse group of people from different faiths and backgrounds. Doing the coursework has been a little bit scary—I’m so old, and most of my classmates are professionals. But that’s okay,” he said. “I went into it knowing that they might take one look at my papers and say, ‘You are not called to be a spiritual director.’ And I’m okay with that, too. Just reading the materials to prepare for the class has helped me greatly, to see and raise good questions in my own spiritual life, about where God is in my life, especially in light of the pandemic, and all the changes going on in the Church.”

The pandemic and all the changes in the Church. Since early 2020, anyone involved in parish ministry has had to navigate a minefield of rules and regulations regarding COVID, and try to make sensible rules to keep people safe in church. That has been added to the normal workload of parish life. Those in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have also been point people in explaining the archdiocese’ ongoing Beacons of Light program, which will reshape parishes for the 442,000 Catholics of the archdiocese.

Fr. Tim, along with his pastor, Fr. Gene Schnipke, C.PP.S., and all other Missionaries in parish ministry have been trying to help the archdiocese roll out and explain Beacons of Light to parishioners.

Fr. Tim said he is trying to help people take the long view, that even as the local church changes, the foundation of faith remains. People can count on that, he said. “One thing that’s helpful to me is talking to older folks who lived through Vatican II. They talk about the changes that came about, and how they got through it. History provides a roadmap for us; we’ve been down this road before,” he said.

With Vatican II, he said, it sounds as if dramatic changes were foisted on the people without much explanation. He feels the Church has learned from that and that the archdiocese is doing a better job of explaining the need for Beacons of Light, which takes effect later this year.

“It’s going to be an entirely new dynamic, and how is that going to look? People are concerned about their parish identity. What does the future hold? There are a lot of questions and a lot of uncertainty.

“I keep coming back to the quote from Ranier Maria Rilke, ‘Live the questions fully now.’  We’re living in uncertainty right now. It requires trust, when we don’t know what the future is going to look like, when the structures we have known all our lives are changing.”

That right there sounds like spiritual direction. Fr. Tim believes that his coursework to become a spiritual director will help enrich his parish ministry, giving him more tools to accompany the people of God, which is already one of his favorite things about the ministry. He feels called to work with married couples; he has a heart for older parishioners who stop him to say hello at Kroger or share a lunch with him.

He said he appreciates the support of the province to take the course and see where it leads. “One of the things I read is that people become spiritual directors to learn how the mystery of God works in other people’s lives. That rings true to me,” he said.

“You’re not to be an archeologist, not to be a detective. It’s a wellness ministry. God does the work – but you are helping that person along, you are present there and trying not to get in the way of God. You are helping them get to the source of truth, which is Christ.”



Missionaries of the Precious Blood