There is an exciting and much-needed offering I wish to share with our readers called the The Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation, founded by Dan Burke. Dan and I have been good friends for a number of years. His speaking, writing, and work at EWTN and the National Catholic Register, along with his award winning book, Navigating the Interior Life, and his spiritual direction blog have changed the lives of countless thousands around the world. He recently took some time with me to talk about his latest venture.
Dan, what is the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation?
“The Avila Institute is a world-wide education and formation institution focused on spiritual theology, the theology of how we grow from the beginning of the spiritual life to our full maturation to mystical union with God.”
How did the Avila Institute get started? What was the inspiration behind it?
“The mystical tradition of the Church was one of the key realities that drew me into Catholicism. As I came into the Church I quickly realized that there was very little awareness and availability of these great treasures for the average person who has a serious desire to grow in prayer and holiness. As well, much of what is offered was mired in misguided syncretism rather than the rich beautiful traditions of the Church and the wisdom of the saints. This led me to found SpiritualDirection.com to spread the beauty of our mystical and ascetical traditions. The Avila Institute is an outgrowth of this effort and my own desire to make the life-changing reality of a relationship with Christ, as revealed through the spiritual doctors of the Church, more readily available to all. The Avila Institute helps students how to delve deeper into their own spiritual lives as while also enabling them to help others develop a closer relationship with Christ.”
You have shared with me your surprise at the impact of the courses on the students, tell us a bit about what is happening in the hearts of your students.
“One religious hermit student recently said that we “Teach from the heart of God.” All of our professors must have a substantive relationship with God in order to teach for us. This coupled with the subject matter and our approach allows most students to experience no less than a dramatic encounter with God in ways that they usually don’t anticipate. I regularly hear from students that their experience at the Avila Institute has made their faith and relationship with God come alive.”
Where do your students come from? Are they made up of just priests and religious?
“Though we have a good number of ordained and religious, the majority of our students are lay men and women from all walks of life (doctors, parents, psychiatrists, engineers, retired, educators, volunteers etc.). It is very unusual to have priests and religious studying along side of lay men and women and it has turned out to be an unexpected blessing to all the students.”
Where is the school located?
“This is one of the best parts of our program. Our courses are all live and online. That means that as long as you have an internet connection you can be an Avila student. We have students from seventeen different countries right now.”
I know that you have worked hard to make sure that the programs are flexible and meet the needs of a broad range of people, including busy moms and full time professionals in the workplace, tell us a bit about the two different programs you offer.
“We have a two year graduate program in spiritual theology which is just as rich and rigorous as any substantive masters level program. For those who have less time or available funds, we developed the School of Spiritual Formation which is a much less rigorous but no less rich program that has shorter courses with fewer hours of study required, no research papers and just a few quizzes. This program is focused on helping individuals deepen their prayer lives or grow spiritually in whatever way they feel they need.”
Let’s get down to the practical elements, when do your courses begin?
“We have courses almost every night of the week and sometimes on Saturdays. We are on a quarter system so we have courses year round. Students can join in any quarter that works best for them.”
How long are the graduate courses and the School of Spiritual Formation courses respectively?
“The graduate courses are nine weeks long and the School of Spiritual Formation courses are six weeks long. The classroom time varies but each evening class provides about two hours of lecture and related interaction.”
Do your students find it difficult to study online?
“With our live format, students see their professors and the lecture materials online. They can also see and interact with other students through our school software. Many have built strong bonds of friendship across continents. For those who find the time zone issues a bit challenging, we also allow students to view recordings of the courses.”
Can you give me an example of upcoming courses?
“For the School of Spiritual Formation, we have Foundations of Prayer and Union with God, Discernment of Spirits, Growth in Holiness: Doctors of the Interior Life and others. For the graduate program, we offer such courses as Spiritual Direction Foundations, Spiritual Wisdom of Eastern Christianity, The Bible and the Revelation of Prayer and others.”
How can folks learn more about what you offer? Is there someone they can contact to talk with about the courses? Do you offer scholarships?
“Our courses are very affordable and we do offer scholarships and payment plans. Our website, www.Avila-Institute.com can be of some help. They can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or they can call one of our admissions counselors at 520-428-4524. To keep track of new courses they can also subscribe to the updates at www.SpiritualDirection.com”
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith? Pre-order Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) which will be available through Amazon on November 21st, 2014.