What is the European English-speaking Tertianship?

Formation in the Society of Jesus is much more than mere professional training. It involve 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 ‘candidature’, which takes place during the first few days of the novitiate. Here the motivation and determination of the candidate to live with and in the Society of Jesus are tested in a preliminary way.
  2. The second probation is the novitiate as such: two years in which the novice gets to know the Society and Jesuit life through various experiences, especially the Spiritual Exercises. It is also a time to study the writings of St Ignatius and the main documents of the contemporary Society. In this way, his decision to become a Jesuit and his suitability for this kind of life is clarified and confirmed.
  3. The third probation is the ‘tertianship’. It is usually made after priestly ordination and the end of the Jesuit’s academic formation, and following some years of ministry. Saint Ignatius called it a ‘school of the heart’, a time in which the tertian deepens his own commitment to the Society and its Lord, Jesus, as he prepares himself for his final vows.

The European Tertianship in Dublin lasts a little more than eight months, from September to May. The group consists of twelve Jesuits – mostly from European provinces, with some Jesuits joining them from further afield. Under the patronage of the President of the Conference of European Provincials (JCEP), 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 as 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.

What is Tertianship?


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, the experience of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. 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.