Meet the Spiritual Directors

Deep Listening and Personal Support

A spiritual director is one who is present to the individual through deep listening and personal support. This creates a safe environment where we can openly and prayerfully explore where God’s spirit is leading. The Franciscan Renewal Center’s Spiritual Directors — lay and ordained — are trained men and women who have years of experience in this ministry.

To get started with any of the spiritual directors, or to have any questions answered contact the Spiritual Direction Ministry at spiritualdirection(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)thecasa.org.

Audrey Bennett, BA, MPS

Certification through Arizona Institute of Spiritual Direction. Focus on Ignatian Spirituality, Inner Healing and Lay Ministry Discernment.

Ruth M. Baker, MA

My Spiritual Direction formation and accreditation was earned at the Mercy Center, Burlingame, California in 2001. I am a retired Psychotherapist who specialized in grief and loss issues, trauma and addiction issues. I attempt to live a Franciscan way of life.
My ministry emphasizes prayer to a loving God of the seekers belief. Contemplative prayer and “centering prayer” are at the core of my ministry. I help people deal with transitioning into the second half of life as well as discernment questions around God’s “will” and direction in life. This requires an intimate, felt sense of God’s presence and good will towards all of us in this world that has become so uncertain and fearful. I facilitate the Ignation Exercises with individuals and groups. I am intimately involved with 12 Step Spirituality for all addictions. Guided meditation and compassionate listening are an integral part of the process. I am available during the week days. I will also meet via phone, Skype, Zoom or FaceTime at the client’s convenience. I will also design and facilitate a Private Directed Retreat.

Mary Bencomo, MA

Mary spent fifteen years in deep prayer and study in the spiritual life during her youth. In addition, she has about thirty years of experience as an educator, psycho-therapist and consultant, all of which included about 20 years of Enneagram work in the narrative tradition. Over the last five years she has participated in a twice monthly spiritual development group studying and practicing Christian esoteric spirituality. Mary draws on these areas in her work with individuals as they explore deeper levels on the spiritual plain. At this time her focus is on the areas of contemplative prayer, elder spirituality and Enneagram. Further interests lie in mystical spirituality, the practice of presence and women’s spirituality.
AEISD certified. Available weekdays: morning and afternoon; in person, by phone or face time. All religious dispositions are welcome.

Laurie Devine, MA

I’m a novelist and board-certified chaplain with a love of social justice. As a spiritual director, my focus is on (1) helping private retreatants at the Casa focus and discern (2) exploring creativity, spirituality and new beginnings and (3) companioning caregivers and those seeking healing at end-of-life or those struggling with grief. I think we all (me, too!) need lots more spiritual joy and I love to work on that with my directees.
I’m a practicing Catholic and ardent member of the Casa community.
I worked for a decade as a hospice and hospital chaplain, have published five novels in New York and London, and lived in Europe and the Middle East for twenty years. I edited a peace and justice advocacy publication for the Diocese of Phoenix.
I hold a M.A. degree in theology from the University of San Francisco, graduated from the Art of Spiritual Direction Program at Kino Institute here in Phoenix and did the Ignatian Exercises at El Retiro in CA. I’m available days, weekends and by Skype and phone.

Fr. Bill Faiella, CSC, Psy.D

Advanced degrees in education, theology and pastoral counseling. Focus on inner healing and general spirituality. Fr Bill is available weekdays, evenings, weekends for meetings at his central Phoenix office.

Milly Johnson, MA

Milly received Spiritual Direction formation at The London Centre for Spirituality and holds a MA in Christian Spirituality from Heythrop College, University of London. She has been a spiritual guide since 2003; and currently meets with individuals one to one. Milly resides in Peoria, AZ. Milly welcomes all persons seeking a closer relationship with God in everyday life. She supports each person’s unique journey - whatever life holds. She will be “at your side” as you explore and shape times of transition through ongoing prayer, scripture and spiritual discernment. As support for the spiritual journey, Milly has ongoing interest in spirituality - learning more about the “lived experience” of early Christian writers – especially, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. She has trained others to give The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and is available to discuss options with individuals or groups interested in planning Ignatian retreats. Milly is currently available to meet on two Saturdays and Tuesdays per month. Otherwise, please suggest alternate days & times that might work.

Sandy Kenger

Since completing my certification in 2003, I’ve been honored to journey with others into the practice of holy listening and finding God in every aspect of life. I enjoy working with others who long for a deeper, more personal relationship with God, searching for the sacred in everything. Especially during times of transition…new relationship, new baby, new job, new location…OR...the challenges of relationship difficulties, parenting concerns, job loss, grief, depression or any profound life transition, a closer walk with God can bring clarity and inspire hope and joy. With my training and education in spirituality and psychology I can assist you with integrating your spirituality into all aspects of your life. By providing a safe, open space to honor your unique and sacred story, together we can listen and discern, seek and explore, as you deepen your experience of God. We can discover how God is in it all, and loves you unconditionally through it all. I am available weekdays and weekends…days or evenings.

Gene Meiergerd

Growing up in a rural setting as one of twelve children is where I learned to find comfort in nature as well as solace from the love and compassion of parents and siblings working together to get through tough times. As a youth it was mandated to work long hours on that livestock and crops farm, but as I grew into adulthood I saw that whenever faced with challenges, I continued to be drawn to nature not out of necessity, but out of consolation.
While stationed in Vietnam I began to see the grief of loss as young men and women faced the fears and desolation of a conflict that deprived them of contact with their soul. That experience along with over thirty-five years as a registered nurse and a continued love of nature, has now drawn me to a vocation of spiritual companioning with special interest in helping veterans and anyone wrestling with grief to help them peer into the subtle nuances of daily life, find the Divine within and heal their soul. Available Mondays, Fridays, any Saturday except 2nd Saturday of each month, or as needed by request.

Patricia (Pat) Mullen, MA

Spiritual Direction certification through Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA, 1996. Welcomes women and men of all faiths who seek to discover and/or explore specific aspects of their spirituality. Am particularly experienced in and available for those in professional church ministry as well as for discernment, grief and forgiveness. As a retreat facilitator in Africa, Asia, and Australia for 11 years, I have a passion for journeying with others in exploring a global spirituality. Years’ experience in group spiritual direction and willing to explore formation of such groups if requested to do so.
Available weekdays, weekends, and some evenings.

Cathy Olds

I have worked as a lay minister in the Catholic Church for over 40 years, received a Master of Arts in Theology and a certificate in Spiritual Direction from the Arizona Ecumenical Institute for Spiritual Directors. I have been a spiritual director since 2005 and have a love for the "Celtic Spirit". I believe it is a privilege and blessing to companion others on the spiritual journey. Spiritual direction is a gift that allows us to name the constant presence of God in our lives and I am continually humbled by the way grace leads us and holds us.

Mauro Pando, MC

My training and faith journey has taken me on a path of interfaith spirituality. I am more comfortable with the term “companioning” than direction. I co-facilitate the Grief and Loss Retreat and am involved in the Faith in Action Ministry. Available weekday mornings at the Casa

Rene Perreault, Jr. SFO

Rene is a certified spiritual director and a member of Spiritual Directors International, ministering for 17 years. Received his education in Spiritual Direction in the graduate school of theology at Sacred Heart University, and is retired from Rhode Island College, member of their professional staff for 35 years. Roman Catholic by choice as an SD is nondenominational. He practices this Ministry of Presence with men and women of all different backgrounds, some in recovery, members of Religious communities professed and those in formation, ordained priest and folks who identify as LGBT. Developed SD work for folks living with AIDS while at the Miriam Hospital in Providence. Before moving to AZ seven years ago he ministered with the Franciscans in Boston in the SD Center and with the men in formation for the Holy Name Provence. Rene is available any day of the week or evening as is needed and will meet at the FRC or where it is most convenient for the person.

Denis J. Sheehan, MBA, CSD

After spending many years in the business community Denis answered the call to retire and become a fulltime Spiritual Director. Having completed a two-year training program through Christian Formation and Direction Ministries located in Henderson Nevada, Denis now spends most of his time providing Spiritual Direction to people of a variety of faith traditions, and those with no traditional faith practice at all. Having spent over 29 years in 12-step programs himself, Denis is sensitive to people who may have issues with traditional faith practices and has learned to be open minded and inclusive to everyone who is sincerely seeking a more intimate relationship with their creator. Whether you are in a season of discernment, a crisis of faith, or have come to a point in your life where you question the value of your daily existence; Denis would be honored to companion you through your spiritual journey providing a gentle, non-judgmental, and compassionate presence. Available week days and evenings.

Sharon Taszarek, BS

Sharon Taszarek recently retired as coordinator of the Spiritual Direction Ministry at the Casa. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Louis University and a two-year spiritual direction training certificate from the Arizona Ecumenical Institute of Spiritual Direction. She is a past member of the Franciscan Renewal Center Board of Directors. Sharon has been engaged in supporting adult spiritual growth and has taught classes at the Franciscan Renewal Center on Contemplative Prayer and Spiritual Friendship. She currently serves on the board of the Christian Formation and Direction Ministry at St. Barnabas on the Desert. As a spiritual director her areas of experience include discernment, spirituality and aging, contemplative prayer and living, grief, and Franciscan spirituality. Available weekdays and weekends.

Cheryl Thomsen, MA

When I met my first Spiritual Director in 1990, my life was painful and broken. I knew I needed someone to guide my soul through grief and several major life transitions I was experiencing. This was a spiritual crisis - not a psychological crisis. As my companion, she gently guided me into a deeper relationship with God and allowed me to see God’s hand in all of life. Later my journey led me to a MA in Theology in 2006 from the University of San Francisco. Further discernment led me to be certified in 2008 by the AEISD program in Spiritual Direction. I then began my practice at the Franciscan Renewal Center.
My focus now is to help others to listen to their soul, throughout personal and professional life transitions, including times of grief, loss, or the search for purpose. Other areas for spiritual growth include exploring how to live a contemplative life, the integration of East-West Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality and 12 steps.
How can I help you discover and embrace God’s weaving in your life? I am available weekdays, evening and weekends.

Ria Tokkie

Ria received her Certification as a Spiritual Director through Christian Formation and Direction Ministries.  In addition, she is a certified hospice volunteer who is passionate about creating a sacred space for families and their loved ones experiencing life-limiting illnesses and grief.  However, her interests are not limited to this work.  Ria’s training has prepared her to walk with people of different faiths and concerns, as they seek answers and direction for their lives. Ria’s goal is to listen to the needs of your searching heart.  Her desire is to help you to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading you; to listen to His Voice; and to recognize God’s Love in life’s challenges, difficulties and blessings, so that you can find inner peace and claim the truth of your belovedness. Available mornings, weekends, in person, via phone, via FaceTime.

Elizabeth Ursic, M Div

Dr. Elizabeth Ursic holds a Masters of Divinity from Yale University, and a PhD in Religious Studies from ASU. She has been a member of Spiritual Directors International for over 20 years. She leads national and regional retreats on spiritual faith development. Her book, Women, Ritual, and Power: Placing Female Imagery of God in Christian Worship, has been used in retreat settings and seminary classrooms. Locally, Elizabeth is a professor of world religions and is committed to interfaith work. She is also a pianist, cellist, and composer. She teaches classes and leads retreats on contemplation, world religions, spirituality, imagination, and the arts. “Being a spiritual director is one of my greatest joys. I love to companion those who are exploring, wrestling, and deepening in their relationship with God. I seek to create a safe space where everything can be shared with love and without judgement. I am in awe of how God works in our lives. It is a privilege to serve as a soul friend with those on their spiritual journey.” Availability is afternoons and evenings during weekdays, via phone, and via Skype.

Virginia Vollmer, OFS

Resident of the West Valley since childhood. Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from Northern Arizona University. Employed in the accounting industry. Certification through Arizona Ecumenical Institute for Spiritual Directors. Professed Secular Franciscan. Emphasis on life transitions within general, interfaith, and Franciscan spirituality. Who are we, and how do we live in this moment with God? I’m available weekends, in person and via phone

Linda M Williams, PhD, CSD

Spiritual Direction Certification: Christian Formation and Direction Ministries. PhD focus on ethics and social justice. Linda is particularly drawn to exploration of life transitions, discernment, second half of life spirituality, contemplative living, and presence. She has been involved in the formation and leadership of nonprofits in the Phoenix area since 1988. In addition, she has served the faith community by working with individuals in discernment for both clergy and lay orders, developing and co-leading a Second Half of Life Spirituality ministry, and teaching Christian Ethics on the faculty of the Deacon Formation Academy within the Arizona Episcopal Diocese. However, the opportunity to walk alongside individuals committed to contemplating and exploring their spiritual journeys is her most precious experience. Available weekdays and other times by appointment and occasionally by telephone, as needed.

Carole Whittaker, PhD

Following careers in science education and agribusiness, Carole currently expresses her passion for supporting the personal development and wholeness of others by leading retreats, teaching Christian spirituality, leading workshops in personal growth and spiritual freedom, and by providing spiritual companionship to individuals.
Carole’s focus or perspective in spiritual direction tends toward Franciscan Spirituality, contemplative living, and Enneagram work toward personal integration and spiritual development. Her formation in spiritual direction was through the Hesychia School and the Arizona Ecumenical Institute for Spiritual Direction. She is available on weekdays for meetings in person at the Franciscan Renewal Center, on Skype or Zoom, or by telephone.

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