By Sue Sprang
SYNOD – Sister Nancy Brousseau, O.P. knew as a child that she was headed for serving God and the church. Now, as she steps away from her role as Facilitator of Living Fire Ministries (a ministry of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod), she feels at peace and looks forward to her continued work in Christ’s church.
Born and raised in Alpena, Brousseau was baptized at St. Anne’s Parish and attended St. Anne’s School and Alpena Catholic Central High School. Her parents, Kenneth and Dorothy Brousseau, were dedicated Catholics who made sure their three children were raised in the church.
“I had aunts and cousins in religious life and I have a cousin who is a priest in the Gaylord Diocese,” Brousseau said, “so an interest and sense of call to consecrated life as a Dominican Sister was awakened in me at an early age.”
When she was in the tenth grade, Brousseau was invited to visit Marywood of Grand Rapids, for the religious profession of the sister of classmate. Marywood is the Motherhouse (headquarters) for the Dominican Sisters.
“During that visit, God seemed to confirm with greater clarity the call to Dominican life,” she said.”
Upon graduation from high school in 1965, Brousseau entered the Dominican community.
“Up to that time I was taught by Dominican Sisters for twelve years in Alpena,” she said, “and I was blessed by their deep spirituality and love of prayer, study, community life and ministry, and their charism of preaching the Word of God with their lives.”
Brousseau went on to earn her M.A. in Religious Education at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids; an M. Div. from St. John’s (now Sacred Heart) Seminary, Detroit; and a D. Min. in Spirituality and Spiritual Direction. This was followed by teaching elementary school for 17 years, then service as administrator of a Catholic school for six years.
“I loved teaching 7th and 8th graders,” she said.
During this time, Brousseau’s already strong interest in spirituality grew and led her to an internship in the Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius (with the Jesuits in Detroit) and Retreat and Spiritual Direction in 1981.
“My purpose in life is a passion for the ministry of spiritual formation and the awakening of adults to the fire of the Holy Spirit in their lives,” she said.
This passion led her to Des Moines, Iowa, to serve as Director of St. Joseph Educational Center, then to the Dominican Center in Marywood for eleven years. Both places afforded her the chance to offer spiritual formation opportunities.
In 2009, after leaving the Domincan Center, Brousseau was invited by a few pastor friends to apply for a new position in the N/W Lower Michigan Synod. The position was for Facilitator of Living Fire Ministries.
“The original vision for this position didn’t materialize for a variety of reasons,” Brousseau said. “In working with the Advisory Board, we moved ahead with a new vision drawing on my love of offering retreats, spiritual direction, workshops, and programs in prayer, spirituality, and spiritual formation for the synod in a part time position and independent work for other others and organizations with the remaining time.”
The programs for the synod offer a comprehensive reflective study of Christian spirituality throughout the ages, with a look at various Christian traditions. Examples are Foundations of Christian Spirituality and The Spiritual Direction Practicum.
Foundations of Christian Spirituality is a yearlong survey of Christian spirituality that spans both time and tradition. The program offers a reflective personal and transformative process for all who desire deeper life in the Spirit and more intentional living of the Christian life in Christ through the lives of Saints Francis, Clare, Benedict, Dominic, and Ignatius; Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, and Thomas Merton. The rich and inspiring teaching is also centered on personal contemplative prayer practice, the writing and living of a personal Rule of Life, and participation in a silent directed retreat.
“In doing this, we find inspiration from these teachers’ deep faith commitment, their spiritual journey in Christ, and their total reliance on grace,” Brousseau said.
Over 150 people have competed this program.
The Spiritual Direction Practicum builds up the Foundations program by providing a two-year practicum training for spiritual directors. It focuses on the way and the art of spiritual direction.
“Participants learn the way of spiritual direction from the life of Christ – especially the unfolding of the Paschal Mystery in our lives,” Brousseau said. “We learn the art of spiritual direction from St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and genius for teaching spiritual discernment.”
Also in the mix is continued learning from the ancient tradition of spiritual direction from the mothers and fathers of the desert in the 4th Century and the ecumenical spiritual teachers of these times.
Completing both programs equips one to be a spiritual director. Twenty-six persons have completed the full three-year cycle.
Brousseau’s passion has reached beyond limits that even she probably couldn’t foresee when she first visited the Dominican Motherhouse during her high school years.
“Spiritual formation is integral to the transformation and integration of the whole person, interior life of prayer, and exterior life, of service,” she said, “in Christ and on behalf of our world today.
“I have truly been enlivened by this ecumenical work, as well as creating an interfaith committee of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish members who have offered many dialogue/dinner events for the East Lansing community in the last eight years,” she said.
Brousseau has also reached out to do group spiritual direction with the street people of the Heartside Neighborhood in Grand Rapids. You can read about it in her book “Group Spiritual Direction: The Lived Experience” (Paulist Press).
In addition, in 1997 Brousseau began designing and leading one or two international pilgrimages each year to Europe and the Middle East as part of the spiritual formation programming.
“I have delighted in opening this way of the contemplative study of saints and mystics and spiritual Giants of Faith,” she said. “In May  we had a pilgrimage to Germany, in the footsteps of Luther and on to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis.”
The pilgrimage, “Reformation 500,” was sponsored by the Dominican Center at Marywood and the N/W Lower Michigan Synod.
“What a blessed and joyful way to bring these eight years of ecumenical ministry to a close,” Brousseau said.
In the end, though, Brousseaus’s changed role with the synod isn’t about retirement. In fact, the word “retirement” isn’t in her vocabulary.
“I’m not retiring… just shifting gears,” she said. “I am grateful for all that I have given and received through this ministry in this synod and now, having resigned from the staff position, will continue with full-time independent spiritual formation ministry on behalf of my Dominican community.”
Thankfully, Brousseau will remain connected to the synod on a contractual basis and will continue to bless all who come to know her with her gentle spirit and kind heart.
*O.P. means “Ordinis Praedicatorum” (the Order of Preachers) and indicates the Dominican Order/Community.
You can learn more about Living Fire Ministries at www.mittensynod.org.