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Meet Jeanette Banashak of The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute in North Side

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeanette Banashak.

Jeanette, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Working in this capacity has been in my bones for generations, though technology has afforded this new iteration of being able to teach both online and in Chicago. I started as a high school Spanish teacher, worked as a camp director, found my way back to high school and then to the university. I know I have to teach. The question became how and where do I teach at this point in my life?

Most recently, after a 3 year stint as a visiting professor, I was unable to find a job in higher education. I applied everywhere, as I looked for professorships in several departments all around the world. One summer day, I was lamenting to and dreaming with a couple friends who introduced me to someone who had founded a similar program in California. He told me that there was no interfaith spiritual guidance program in the Midwest, and I´m the one to bring one to our area.

This gave me the courage to act and within months, everything lined up for me.  I moved back to Chicago (after being away for 22 years) to live in the same city as my partner and began working part-time teaching mindfulness in Chicago Public Schools.  During that time, I recognized two things: there was a void in my life, and I wanted to create something that would utilize my various gifts and interests.   Working with the creative process, I invited my colleague and friend, Jan Lundy, to join me.  Jan and I had been talking and dreaming and ideating for years about the possibility of creating something that would serve people interested in interfaith spiritual guidance.   We began interviewing other spiritual guidance programs to get a feel for what-why-how they do what they do.

With the wisdom of numerology, we opened in April 2017 and formed our first cohort in August. This August, we are excited to begin our second cohort of students, while our first cohort continues to learn with us until they graduate in January 2019.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
If by smooth, you mean white sandy beaches of Saugatuck, no, it has not been smooth. On the other hand, it hasn´t been rough like Chicago streets in February. One of the biggest challenges we have faced and continue to face is simply letting people know who we are and what we do. We have no marketing budget and have relied on word of mouth thus far. Another challenge has been generating interest among Spanish-speaking individuals who are interested in getting trained as spiritual directors, but not used to participating in training programs. I am fluent in Spanish and have a desire to include latinx and Spanish companions.

The Spiritual Guidance Training Institute – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am very proud that we are doing something unique and important in the world – it is urgent that we learn to communicate with people who are different than us in any way, that we listen, honor, and respect others, and perhaps most importantly, humanize them without otherizing them. There are a handful of interfaith training programs for spiritual guides in the US, but apart from the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute, none focuses on both interreligious and interspiritual (´the sharing of ultimate experience across traditions´) training and guidance.

Our mission is to train spiritual guides and spiritually/religiously curious people by engaging in education, experiences, and relationships for practical, integrative, unitive living. We offer a professional certificate, pilgrimages, and workshops that encompass skills in deep listening, including a protocol we call Pure Presence, contemplative practices, human development, interreligious awareness, and interspirituality.

By participating in our 18-month program, our students can also work towards a Masters or Doctorate through The Graduate Theological Foundation, an interreligious institution that specializes in providing education to students not interested in jumping through hoops in higher education. In addition to the training to become spiritual companions, we offer pilgrimages to anyone who wants to participate in a sacred journey. In the spring of 2019, we will offer our first Interfaith Immersion – an Urban Pilgrimage in Chicago. We hope to also take pilgrimages to Colorado, New Mexico, and overseas.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
There are so many! I am proud every time I talk with one of our students about a conversation they had with a companion. They tell us often how they use the skills, techniques, and practices that we are teaching them, and this brings us so much joy.


  • $5448 for 18 month program, $1950 for 9 month program for seasoned spiritual companions

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Images by Jan Lundy, Jeanette Banashak and Beth Brown

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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