Oct. 8, 2019 - In his chrism Mass homily in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis noted that being with the people “is the most beautiful place” to be. He went on to say that just as Jesus always sought to be with the people to serve, teach and heal, so, too, must priests always be in the midst of God’s people, “pouring ourselves out for them.”
It’s a way of ministering Fr. Robert Murphy, SJ, already embraces. Ordained in 2014, he has served four years at Saint Louis University (SLU) as the campus minister for the Health Science Campus and as the retreat coordinator for the broader campus ministry department. He has also been, he says, “just a priest on campus” – a priest in the midst of God’s people.
A certified athletic trainer with a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, Fr. Murphy has a level of understanding that helps him connect with students of health sciences. In addition to Mass, retreats and prayer groups, his ministry included instilling Ignatian fundamentals like discernment, cura personalis and finding God in all things – even, maybe especially, in Gross Anatomy. “It’s not a fluke the way our bodies are designed,” he said.
Father Murphy’s assignment at SLU ended in May. In September, he leaves for tertianship in Ireland.
Tertianship is a nine-month period of Jesuit formation, undertaken several years after ordination and before final vows. It has been called “a return to the novitiate,” because Jesuits repeat many of the same experiences they had as novices. During tertianship, Jesuits study the Constitutions, repeat the Spiritual Exercises and serve in experiments – apostolic experiences that challenge them to rely on God.
“Tertianship allows us to go back to our foundational experiences and go deeper,” Fr. Murphy said. “We review our vows now that we’ve lived them. When we pronounce first vows at the end of novitiate, that’s our election. Final vows are a final confirmation of our vocation; the Society of Jesus confirms our own individual election.”
Tertianship is also a time of reflection and discernment. “It’s a time to examine how I’ve grown and how I can best serve the needs of the Society of Jesus and, through that, the Church and the world,” Fr. Murphy said.
At the completion of his tertianship, Fr. Murphy will receive a new assignment. One role he hopes to continue is his involvement with Teens Encountering Christ (TEC), a Catholic retreat ministry. TEC offers young people the opportunity to learn about and integrate the Paschal Mystery into their lives during this critical period of development.
Father Murphy first got involved with TEC when he made his very first retreat, the summer before his senior year at Jesuit High School in New Orleans. He later served as a retreat leader. For the past five years, he has been on the National Spirituality Committee, helping to update TEC’s materials to meet young people where they are today.
“The language and examples have been updated for the current generation, but the message of the Paschal Mystery remains intact,” he said.
Father Murphy relishes his work with TEC as an opportunity to give back to an organization that was such an important part of his faith journey and enhance it with Ignatian spirituality. “Being able to expose young people to Ignatian Spirituality and impact them the way it has me has been a great gift.”