Catholic Herald staff
Retirement has freed Jane Dietzman to pursue a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God and to share that gift with others.
Dietzman, who lives in Turtle Lake, is a spiritual director, trained by Franciscans to guide searching souls to the God within.
A member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Almena, Dietzman, 65, set off on her own inward journey about 10 years ago. She’d sought a closer relationship with God sporadically through adulthood, but she hadn’t always prioritized that closeness.
“It just changed my whole way of being,” she said.
A retired public health nurse, Dietzman grew up in Spring Green, where she attended Catholic elementary school and public high school, and then graduated from Viterbo University, a Catholic college in La Crosse that was girls-only at the time.
The God she knew in childhood was “a judging God,” she said. “Viterbo is where I learned a different God.”
She started to see her Creator as a friend and a “compassionate, loving God.”
Her introduction to Franciscan spirituality had begun.
Dietzman’s grandparents went to the 6:30 a.m. Mass when she was a child, and she remembers hearing the liturgy echo throughout the church.
“It felt so holy, because they were so devout,” she said.
To this day, Dietzman credits her grandmother with instilling that first image of God in her.
Oldest of seven children, Dietzman’s early life was not without difficulties, and home was not a very warm, nurturing environment.
Her father was a World War II veteran and alcoholic who was moved to a nursing home at age 58.
“He carried a lot,” she said. “He wouldn’t talk about his experiences at all.”
She suffered rheumatic fever as a child and spent nine months in bed. Each Friday the priest came over to give her Communion, and every week her mother brought out the Extreme Unction cross.
She was terrified.
“I thought I was going to die,” Dietzman said.
When she told her mother she was frightened, her mother took out a Bible and read from Scripture — not exactly reassuring for a child.
One sacrament that sticks in her mind is her first Communion. She credits her teacher, a nun, with making the event memorable.
“She taught it in such a holy way,” Dietzman said.
From driven to profoundly peaceful
Although spiritual seeds were planted early, Dietzman’s home life was mostly shaped her desire to prevent and fix problems, which led to a 30-plus year career in public health. Viterbo, on the other hand, inspired her interest in spiritual direction.
“The movement of the Spirit in my college years is what sparked that call to influence others spiritually,” she explained.
When life got too busy — the children were in school, and Dietzman’s job was demanding — she went on retreat to recharge. On one occasion, she accidentally ended up at a silent retreat. There, she dreamed she was drowning in quicksand, and she realized her lifestyle needed changing.
“I was such a driven person when I was a wife, mother and career person in public health,” she said.
Today, Dietzman is profoundly peaceful, which she attributes to the way spiritual direction “teaches you to live in the now, and just be present.”
The quiet room
Her day begins in the quiet room, her spiritual direction/meditation space, where she reads and prays. Directees are invited to do likewise.
“I suggest that they spend at least a half hour in prayer or more,” she added, but she encourages them to start slowly — pray or meditate in 10-minute increments. Often, they begin with three- or five-minute blocks and work their way up.
When clearing the mind to focus on God is a problem, Dietzman has a solution.
There’s a cross-shaped box with a removable lid in the quiet room. It serves the same purpose as the bowl on her mantle — both containers are places for visitors to leave their troubles and let God take care of them.
Dietzman never reads the slips of paper. They are relegated to bonfire fodder.
“It’s amazing,” she added. “I’ve had to go to a bigger bowl.”
Becoming a spiritual director is a three-year process. Since 1985, the Franciscan Spirituality Center, La Crosse, has offered its Spiritual Direction Preparation Program for those 35 and older who wish to explore their own spirituality or start a ministry.
The program consists of required readings, workshops, practice sessions, meetings with supervisors and annual reviews. Dietzman has been trained to suggest prayer to directees, but not to make recommendations — spiritual direction is about listening, not advising.
Ignatian spirituality, the style of meditation developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, is a practice Dietzman learned in her training and which deeply affected her spirituality. The letting go of one’s ego is a fundamental part of her philosophy.
“You’re the inspiration through the Holy Spirit,” she tells herself before sessions. “You’re not Jane Dietzman anymore.”
Spiritual direction appears to be gaining popularity, according to Dietzman. For the first time since its inception, the SDPP program has a waiting list. The practice is becoming more appealing to men as well; the number of male applicants is up 25 percent, and two Catholic priests are among them.
‘Get off the merry-go-round’
Unlike counselors and therapists who delve into clients’ pasts, Dietzman is focused on a directee’s relationship with God. She might ask about a client’s first image of God, her spiritual role model, or his perception of God and how it has changed over time.
Often, clients come to the first session “wanting to figure something out with God.” Once that concern is addressed, they are free to grow spiritually.
Life’s stressors — retirement, death of a loved one, diagnosis of an illness — often propel people to seek spiritual direction, but Dietzman believes the basic busyness of life, coupled with a culture that promotes busyness as a virtue, also necessitates opportunities to “get off the merry-go-round.”
A priest once asked Dietzman, “Are you living the life that wants to live inside of you?” She poses the same question to her directees, emphasizing the importance of “just being” rather than “doing.”
Who needs spiritual direction?
Dietzman can spot those in need of spiritual direction by their lack of peacefulness. Many individuals would benefit from having someone to talk to, she said, but priests are often stretched among several parishes and don’t have time to talk.
She believes spiritual directors have something to offer their parishes, and she hopes to use her training to help fellow Catholics, and others, draw closer to God.
Dietzman’s services are nondenominational, and fees are negotiable. Some directees give her money; others barter with eggs, winter plant maintenance or other services. No one is turned away due to an inability to pay.
She can be reached at , or 651-307-9232.