When Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast left Montreal for Toronto August 13, 1961 to begin his novitiate in the Society of Jesus 50 years ago, he admitted shedding some tears aboard the overnight train.
“I think it was just leaving my parents and my friends,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be back for some time.”
But he awoke the next morning to a new adventure and a sense of joy that has accompanied him, with a few exceptions, ever since. His life as a Jesuit has taken him from Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Regina, and Ottawa, along with sabbaticals in Rome and Jerusalem. A scripture scholar, he has taught high school students, university students and seminarians in Toronto, Halifax and Regina. He eventually moved up in the episcopacy, first in Toronto as an auxiliary bishop then to Halifax and Ottawa as archbishop.
“My life has been very happy,” he said. “Even with a few crisis places, basically it’s been happiness every day. I get a good night’s sleep. Get up in the morning and I have new energy, ready to take on the day.”
He early on found a Eucharistic spirituality that attracted him to serving at Mass. “I knew my way around the altar,” he said. He could understand the Latin and often acted as M.C.
A diocesan priest asked him when he was in the 7th grade whether he had considered the priesthood, and he said no. But that question got him thinking about it. In high school, the young Jesuit scholastics who taught at Loyola high school attracted him to join the Society. He thought he would end up a Jesuit high school teacher.
“I really loved my teaching,” he said. “I was kind of sloppy in my Latin and Greek,” he said. “The way I learned it was when I taught it. In Scripture, too, you learn so much from your professors but when you have to explain it yourself you have to go back and rethink it.”
Jesuit spirituality, especially the Spiritual Exercises of Society founder St. Ignatius, has shaped his daily life over the past five decades.
The Exercises provide a way to get to know Christ through a reading of the Scripture that interiorizes the texts and makes them personal, he said. The closing meditation or contemplation of the Exercises is about “finding God in all things,” the archbishop said.
“Our hope is that being nurtured in the Spiritual Exercises, having a common vision of trying to find God in all things, and being an instrument in God’s hands, trying to want what God wants, that’s what distinguishes us when we’re at our best,” he said.
Meanwhile, he hopes young men who feel a call on their lives will consider the Society of Jesus.
“It’s a great life and I’m very confident in the young people that we have,” he said. “We still have young men who come who desire to serve God as a brother or a priest and want to have a different kind of experience than a parish priest.”
It’s the charism of the Jesuits to go anywhere in the world where there is a need for particular projects, whether it be in Arabic studies, or Chinese history that some new Jesuits are pursuing, he said.