Formation: Drawing Deeper into the Experience of Christ

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Fr. John Wronski, SJ, and Fr. Chuck Frederico, SJ, visited Mt. St. Helens during the tertianship program in Portland, Ore.

In 2012, the Society of Jesus inaugurated a new national tertianship program which provides support and training for men during the last stage of Jesuit formation. Occurring before a man is called to Final Vows, tertianship is the time for a Jesuit to make a 30-day retreat for the second time, as well as prayerfully reflect on the major documents of the Society. The national program allows Jesuits from around the world to experience the program together.

Two Jesuits in the tertianship stage of their formation reflect on the graces they have experienced during this period, which St. Ignatius described as a “school of the heart.” 


The Long and Winding Road

By Fr. Chuck Frederico, SJ, the vocation director of the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces.

Fr. Chuck Regis

Fr. Chuck Frederico, SJ, speaks about vocations with students at Regis High School in New York City.

The journey to and through tertianship for a Jesuit typically begins after he has finished three to five years beyond a traditional track of formation (novitiate, first studies, regency, and theology) and when the provincial decides it’s time to go. My own journey began late in 2011. While having a conversation over dinner with one of the provincials, I was casually asked, “So, Chuck, when are you doing tertianship?” I dutifully replied, “Well, of course, when I’m asked!”

And as they say in show biz, “The rest is history.”

Two tertianship programs are offered in Portland, Ore. Both programs are directed by Jesuit Fathers Charles Moutenot and Michael Harter. The first program lasts nine months and occurs during the academic year; the second, which I am taking part in, is a 13-month program that runs through two consecutive summers.

Tertians study the foundational documents of the Society of Jesus, make the 30-day retreat, study the Spiritual Exercises, and participate in an apostolic experiment chosen by the tertian instructor, all meant to draw a man deeper into the experience of Christ in the world. This brings a Jesuit to the verge of Final Vows, which is full membership in the Society of Jesus.

The provincial makes a recommendation, but only the Superior General in Rome can call a man to these vows. A Jesuit makes this final step when he has reached a deeper level of availability for mission in the Society of Jesus.

My first summer of tertianship began on a Sunday evening with prayer and a barbeque. We had men from as far away as Sweden, Poland and Germany and from as close as Montana. The east coast contingent was large and varied; out of 16, we had three men from the Maryland Province, three from the New England Province, and two from the New York Province. The great inspiration for me, right from the beginning, was that all the men showed up, dropped their bags and approached our time together with big, open hearts. This camaraderie grew over time. Everyone gave their whole heart to the experience, and conversion in the best sense of the word was apparent. I suspect that St. Ignatius would have been moved.

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Fr. Frederico’s group included himself (left), Fr. Wronski (middle right) and two international Jesuits.

Because the group was large, we formed at random four small groups of four men each. I was fortunate to have two international Jesuits and a stateside man whom I had never met before. We opened our hearts, discussing our prayer, our works, our family histories, our struggles and our dreams – all within the context of just having done the Spiritual Exercises with men who love the Church and the Society and who stand faithful to their vows. It was apparent that each of these men had a personal relationship with Jesus and was on fire for mission. This component of “Friends in the Lord,” a phrase coined by St. Ignatius, was deeply moving and gratifying. Because our quartet got along so well, we traveled to places in the Northwest on our days of rest and on the weekends. We even made a pact to journey the mission trail of California next summer. God is good.

Reflecting on the pilgrim journey of St. Ignatius and making the Spiritual Exercises again has brought me back to the inner sanctum of my heart in new ways. As a young priest with years of sacramental ministry on a college campus and now years as the vocation director, I’ve come to see that Christ has woven a web of tranquility and grace amidst my experiences of community, service and prayer in these 19 years of my Jesuit life. All I can do is look with hopeful anticipation as I continue my tertianship experience.


Placed with the Son

By Fr. John Wronski, SJ, the director at Nativity Preparatory School in Boston.

Fr. Wronski is the director at Nativity Preparatory School in Boston.

Fr. Wronski is the director at Nativity Preparatory School in Boston.

One of the many graces I received as a tertian during the third week of my 30-day retreat this past summer was a vivid experience of carrying the cross with Jesus on his way to Calvary. In my contemplations of this scene I felt very close to Jesus and deeply attuned to the tragic circumstances surrounding his unjust suffering and death.

As I write four months later, in the midst of my ministry with underserved children from Boston at Nativity Preparatory School, the vividness of that prayerful journey to Calvary with Jesus has not diminished.

There is so much injustice and tragic suffering in our world. I see it in the lives of my students and their families every day. I see it in the structures of our society that keep people mired in cycles of poverty. This is the world where my 30-day retreat continues to unfold, the place where the Gospel scene takes on real flesh and blood. Each day as a tertian I am blessed with the grace of carrying the cross with Jesus and his suffering people. Through these experiences I am being called more deeply into my life as a Jesuit, a companion of Jesus – “placed with the Son,” as Ignatius was at La Storta in Italy.

Adapted from JESUITS magazine, Spring 2014. To read the full magazine online, click here.

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