Grant Tungay, S.J.
I have heard people talk about a vocation as a call, something that we can listen out for, like a whisper from God to us. In my own journey, I experienced the call to serve God in Jesuit life as a thought that just wouldn’t go away.
After studying law and working at a law firm in Johannesburg, I discovered that this work wasn’t what I really wanted to do. I started to pay attention to my desires for my life, almost for the first time, and the thought that kept coming back to me was priesthood, and life with the Jesuits. The lack of fulfilment in my chosen career made me question, at a deep level, what was important to me. What I discovered led me onto another path completely. I had met the Jesuits at the Catholic Chaplaincy in Cape Town, where I had studied, and their devotion to the students and living a life with a focus on others made an impact on me. The life that drew me to the Jesuits was a life lived for others, and this is still a call that constantly challenges and renews my Jesuit journey.
One of the charisms or gifts that Jesuit spirituality gives to the Church is discernment, which is a gentle listening to the whisper of God speaking to us in our daily lives. Paying attention to desires we have is an important part of this listening. After joining the Jesuits in Johannesburg, I was sent to Birmingham in the United Kingdom for the Novitiate, which is the two year period at the start of Jesuit formation. During the two years I was introduced to Jesuit life, and given the space to learn at a deeper level what discernment is and what the voice of God sounds like. Apart from instruction in prayer, I was given the opportunity to work in a variety of different places. I worked as an assistant to the chaplain at a hospice in Hackney, London. I also worked with children from a poor background in Galway, Ireland. For a longer period I went to Port Elizabeth in South Africa, to work at a seminary. Finally, in line with Jesuit tradition, I was sent on a pilgrimage from York in the United Kingdom to the island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland. This was a six week journey on foot, with very little provisions. This was an experience of putting myself into God’s hands and letting Him guide me. A valuable experience of trust and faith!
At the end of the Novitiate period, I made vows to God of poverty, chastity and obedience, at the local Church in Birmingham. The Novitiate programme had built up to this event, and I was sent to London to a Jesuit formation community to begin studies in philosophy. I was enrolled at Heythrop College, a part of the University of London, which is administered by the Jesuits. This continues a long tradition of teaching that reaches as far back as the first group of Jesuits led by St. Ignatius. Ignatius studied in Paris in one of the finest universities in Europe, and this experience of dialogue with contemporary culture has influenced the Jesuit approach to education through the centuries. The philosophy at Heythrop is taught together with students from all different backgrounds, and I was given an opportunity to study in a diverse and academically rigorous environment. The Church’s tradition of sending students for the priesthood to study philosophy seeks to provide a foundation to belief. After some interesting years of debate and dialogue between faith and reason, my experience has been a discovery of the intellectual heritage we have as Catholics. The dialogue continues of course, but it is good to have made contact with fellow Catholics down the ages who have wrestled with the big questions too!
Having completed my studies in philosophy, I am being sent back to Johannesburg to continue my formation. It is usual at this stage to continue to Regency, which is a period of apostolic work for two years. I am not sure what this next stage of formation will hold for me, but I do know that every day I am invited by God to listen more deeply to that voice inside, which is God’s guidance and call into deeper service of Him.