Father Joseph Tetlow, SJ – writer, educator, spiritual director, a 70-year Jubilarian – shows no signs of slowing down. Just last week, his latest book, Always Discerning: An Ignatian Spirituality for the New Millennium (Loyola Press), won first place honors from the Catholic Press Association in the spirituality category.
“A wonderful title that enforces the truth that every person has the capacity to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit,” the citation read. “Using Scripture, Ignatian wisdom, and the words of Pope Francis, Fr. Tetlow's clear and positive approach to discernment will encourage, inform, and guide the reader. His chapter on "Living Dissed" is particularly useful for navigating our way in today's world.”
Father Tetlow is accomplished in guiding others in the practice of discernment and in training spiritual directors. This summer he will be leading a pair of important workshops for anyone - Jesuits, religious and lay - who offer spiritual companioning in the Ignatian tradition, including guiding the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The first is Giving Witness: A Practicum, which prepares participants to guide the Spiritual Exercises in parish, school, church and retreat house. The second is Practicing Ignatian Spiritual Direction.
Father Tetlow emphasizes the importance of the Giving Witness workshop: "Everyone is teaching 'spiritual direction,'" he says. "But very few are teaching how to run days of prayer in a parish, or Saturdays of reflection for a school, or how to give talks for a retreat." Giving Witness is a practical, one-on-one guide to developing themes and making presentations.
When asked about his many assignments over the decades, Fr. Joseph Tetlow, SJ, clicks them off easily, sifting and turning the many pages and chapters of his productive Jesuit life.
He taught Jesuits in formation, tackled a doctorate in American social and intellectual history, revamped curriculum at Loyola University New Orleans, helped launch the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C., led the School of Theology at Berkeley, helped edit America Magazine, and spiritually directed Jesuit tertians and clergy in Austin, Texas. He wrote scholarly works for Jesuit journals, taught at Saint Louis University, worked in Rome for the Society’s governing body, traveled the world visiting Jesuit works, directed Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, Texas, and wrote books on Ignatian spirituality.
“That’s my criminal career,” he said of his exhausting curriculum vitae.
“I keep saying this to my confessor and friends: I am now in the perfect place for any man to be. I don’t know how God did this.”
This “perfect place” is Our Lady of the Oaks Retreat House in Grand Coteau, La., where he had spent four years as a young Jesuit teaching early in his career. This time around, he said, “I wasn’t sure if I’d like being at the Oaks. One day, I walked into the quadrangle and thought, ‘I really am home.’ I’ve been in deep consolation about it.”
Since his most recent appointment to the Oaks in July 2015, he has been leading retreats and teaching lay people to do “conferences” or talks for retreats, “looking forward to the day when there aren’t going to be many Jesuits.
“If we keep that (Ignatian spirituality) mission, we need to pass this along to the laity.”
Once a month for the last year, he has been meeting with a group of 12 men and six women to teach them about preparing, writing and giving half-hour talks in a preached weekend retreat.
“What I’m doing here, the (Society) must do,” he said. “There is a fringe, a periphery of mature adult men and women who want to deepen their faith, who don’t know how to do it, and there’s nobody to help them do it. The pope says Jesuits need to go to the geographical and spiritual places where others cannot reach.”
For now, that’s promoting adult spirituality in and around Grand Coteau. While he doesn’t expect that all of his students will lead three-day retreats, they can return to their parishes and communities to lead people in days or evenings of prayer.
Tetlow said that Ignatian spirituality, though centuries old, is perfect for the new millennium. It employs discernment, the constant monitoring of the head, heart and hand interacting. “It’s a process for looking at the world,” he said, even one as chaotic as ours.
At 86, Tetlow doesn’t feel his Jesuit life is completed, and considers himself a work in progress. “I finally know how to write a book but I’m still learning,” he said. He wants to write more books. He’d be delighted to return to Rome. He’d go anywhere his superior asks.
“People used to say, ‘when you get old, time goes slowly,’” he said. “If that’s true, then, I’m not old yet.”
This year marks Fr. Tetlow’s 70th anniversary as a Jesuit.
The Ignatian Spirituality Program of Denver offers Ignatian group retreats, individual spiritual direction, the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, and trains spiritual directors and guides of the Spiritual Exercises.