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What is the European English-speaking Tertianship?

Formation in the Society of Jesus is much more than a mere professional training. It involves personal and spiritual growth in the body of the Society. The Jesuit Constitutions describe three probations that are undertaken before taking final vows:

  1. The first probation is the so-called ‘candidature’ before entering the novitiate and takes place at the beginning. Here the motivation and determination of the candidate to live with and in the Society of Jesus are to be proved.
  2. The second probation is the novitiate as such: two years in which to consider the undertaken election to become a Jesuit – and seek for confirmation.
  3. The third probation is therefore known as the ‘tertianship’. It is usually made after the end of the Jesuit’s professional training. Saint Ignatius called it a ‘school of the heart’. It is a time in which the tertian deepens his own commitment to the Society and its Lord, Jesus.

The European Tertianship in Dublin lasts a little more than eight months, usually from September to May. Twelve Jesuits annually spend a year as Tertians – most from European provinces, with some Jesuits joining them from further afield. Under the patronage of the President of the Conference of European Provincials (CEP), this Tertianship attempts to provide a particular experience of the Society in Europe as a faith community for corporate mission. But the means to this end are the same in all tertianships of the Society of Jesus:

  • Apostolic prayer
  • Spiritual direction
  • Communal sharing and discernment 
  • The Long Retreat (November – December)
  • Experiments (January – April)
  • Studies of the major documents of the Society of Jesus, the Church, and the Society’s history.

The European Tertianship began in 2006 as an activity of the European Assistancy.

What is Tertianship?

Tertianship is the “final probation” or testing before full incorporation into the Society of Jesus which is made with final vows. Jesuits usually do Tertianship after the completion of academic formation and following some apostolic experience.

In Together for Mission, Andre de Jaer, SJ, explains the importance of this stage of Jesuit formation:

Ignatius attached considerable importance to beginnings. We have only to recall the significance of the preludes to his meditations. Often he himself was constrained to begin all over again, for example, when he was not permitted to remain in the Holy Land. There is a mystery in beginning and in beginning anew. For Ignatius it always involves a deferring to God and a breaking-through to what is actually real in any situation. The tertianship is one of those times when we begin anew, starting from God and at ground level. Our whole life is, in fact, a series of new beginnings: only beginning over again can we really continue at all.

Beginning again involves returning to  original inspirations;  each Jesuit is invited to consider his life story and his response to God’s call.  One might say that the Tertianship is an extended version of the review of life which is central to ordinary Jesuit living.  A central part of Jesuit formation in the novitiate and in tertianship is the thirty day retreat during which the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola are undertaken. The tertianship retreat is an opportunity to  renew and deepen  one’s sense of discipleship. Other elements of the novitiate experience are also repeated:  tertians spend up to three months away from the Tertianship on apostolic placements in a variety of settings.

The building

The new building was added on to what had previously been the novitiate built in 1978. The additions form a central courtyard with a fountain, and glazed passages on three sides forming a cloister. A new circular chapel with stained glass designed by Peter Maguire, a kitchen and refectory and a series of interview rooms extend into the former stable yard. The grounds surrounding the new tertianship have been landscaped by Eilish Murphy; lavender bushes are planted close to the house, and in the courtyard there are olive and catalpa trees. Behind the chapel there is a square garden, bordered by beech hedges enclosing a lawn with wooden benches. Established trees on the site have been left in situ, so have the creepers on the original stable yard walls. A fine 18th-century portrait in oils of St Ignatius of Loyola was presented by the Netherlands Province and hangs above the fireplace in the assembly room. A good library is present in English in the Retreat House and for other languages in the building due to the gift of the North Belgian Province.