Ian Tomlinson SJ
I entered the novitiate in 1959, having attended the Jesuit college of Saint Michael’s in Leeds. I think I was encouraged in the direction of the Society of Jesus by the practice of going to daily mass and by the Jesuits’ collective sense of mission and purpose.
The early years of formation were difficult but new light and vision came with the post-Vatican 2 renewal of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. During the spiritual year of the tertianship, I found Father Michael Ivens an inspiration both in his giving of the Spiritual Exercises and later in his teaching about them. This experience became for me a firm foundation, underpinning the rest of my life.
I look back gratefully to the early days after ordination of pastoral work at Saint Ignatius’ parish of Stamford Hill in north London. The daily parish workload always seemed overwhelming: liturgy, spiritual and catechetical programmes, house visiting. I had energy and needed it. A Jesuit finds himself, I think, when availability to people overwhelms him.
After eight years I was appointed novice master. By tradition Jesuits can ambition for this post; no one wants it! After the hectic pace of parish life, the calmer flow of the novitiate came as a shock. Yet I look back at those eight years with appreciation. It led me more profoundly into the charism of the Jesuits. The clarity and honesty of those who left helped me clarify what Jesuit life is about, while others, who stayed, I could see living and working with me in community.
Next followed eight years as personal assistant (Socius) to two provincials. Much of the job consisted in listening to Jesuits: to those who wanted to put their plans or problems to me before putting them to the provincial; to superiors reporting about the sick; and, of course, to the provincials themselves who would want an informed opinion on an individual or a community situation. Very important was arranging the details of the provincial’s yearly visits to communities and to individual members of those communities. The Society puts considerable emphasis on the care of individual Jesuits both for their general well-being and for the purpose of missioning to apostolic works.
The last ten years have been spent mainly at Loyola Hall Spirituality Centre near Liverpool and more recently at Manchester Universities’ Catholic chaplaincy; in the former retreat work and training in spirituality, in the latter spiritual direction with students. These years have revealed a thirst for spirituality. Annieke is a Dutch protestant who made the Spiritual Exercises with me at Loyola Hall and did the training course which followed. When she returned to Jordan, where she worked as a doctor, she turned part of her house into a centre for silent retreats for women, whom she directed herself. Saint Ignatius’ presentation of the main themes of the Gospel story in the Spiritual Exercises has shaped my life. It has the potential to help many.