Jesuit life · Reflection

A Jesuit Litany according to the Enneagram

The mystery of every human being is the mystery of God. Thus, God has blessed us with a  unique genome, soul… and personality.  A way to study the latter is through the Enneagram system (see A month ago, the novitiate went to an introductory workshop on this personality theory. Personally,  the Enneagram has been a great discovery in understanding myself and others. Furthermore, it is a powerful pastoral tool.

The  Enneagram is aimed to our personal understanding but it  could also predict other  peoples personalities.  In a 472-year-old religious order, we have had (and have!) a few characters. So, this is an educated guess of the different Enneagram personality types of some our  Jesuit Saints.  Feel free to question and disagree….

 1. Saint Ignatius Of  Loyola: The Mystical Reformer  (1491-1556)

“Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.” 


Born in a aristocratic Basque family, young Ignatius grew as  a “spoilt child”. Though he had everything, he wanted more. Thus, he pursued a career as a chevalier. However, a canon ball in Pamplona finished his dreams of glory. Trapped in his room,  he went through a profound spiritual conversion. His soul was reconfigured: from a knight to a soldier of  Christ.

 Ignatius had a new focus: to work for the God’s Greater Glory.  Under this motto, he and his first companions founded the Society of Jesus. But Ignatius was seeking the more (magis). His way of living was not of selfish perfectionism but of holiness by finding God in all things.  


2. Saint Alphonsus Rodriquez: The Munificent Helper (1532-1617)

“With those who are perfect and walk with simplicity. there is nothing small and compatible, if it be a thing that pleases God.”


Son of a wool merchant, Alphonsus developed his life around his family business.  After a fairly steady life, his wife and two of his three children died in the course of one year.  Aged 31, Rodriguez had to rethink the purpose of his life .  Through meeting Pierre Favre, he started a long process of discernment. At the age of 40 he entered the Society  as a lay brother.

 After his first probation, Alphonsus was sent to the new Jesuit College in Majorca.  There he was designated to be the college porter. Through simplicity and obedience, he performed this task to its fullness. By opening doors joyfully, Alphonsus made his way into holiness.  In a phrase: a true giver


 3. Saint Nicholas Owen:  The Silent Achiever (1550-1606)

“I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular.” (John Gerard SJ after Owen’s execution)


Little is known about this English martyr.  We know that his birth coincided with the start of Penal laws in England.  Though a carpenter by profession, Nicholas thought that he could do something to help his Catholic brother and sisters. This brought him into becoming a Jesuit lay brother.


His objective was very clear: to  protect the people of Christ’s church.  The target: hide as many catholic as he could.  He did so with pragmatic ingeniousness. Owen managed to build dozens of hiding places for priests. Even though he was captured and executed, his success-oriented mind saved lots of lives. In a nutshell: he was the excelling carpenter of God’s body. 


4. Saint John Berchmans: The Virtuous Individualist (1599-1621)

“Our true worth does not consist in what human beings think of us. What we really are consists in what God knows us to be.”.

In the Flemish town of Diest.  John was born in a family of shoemakers.  In between Spanish and French invasions, the Flemish boy felt called to reserve himself for Christ. After a long period of familial opposition, Berchmans entered the Society aged 17.   

In the novitiate, Berchmans was known as reserved and pious.  He had a particular devotion to Christ’s via crucis. Later in his writings,  he confessed that community life was his challenge. In performing simple tasks with perfection, Berchmans found his path to holiness. In his short life, he teaches us how to become  self-absorbed in Christ’s passion.

 5. Saint Robert Bellarmine: The Heavenly Investigator (1542-1621)

“The School of Christ is the school of love. In the last day, when the general examination takes place… Love will be the whole syllabus”


Of a noble impoverished Italian family,  Robert’s famine was intellectual and spiritual.  These two were fulfilled by meeting Christ in the study of Sacred theology. Aged 18, he entered the Jesuit novitiate in Rome, and the day after, he took first vows after impressing his superiors with his wisdom.


As one of the greatest theologians of the Church, Robert Bellarmine was most certainly the  cerebral type. But his intellect was not an empty one. He put his inquisitive nature to the service of God and his Church. In a phrase: a scientist for the Kingdom.

 6. Saint  Joseph Pignatelli: The Patient Loyalist (1737-1811)

“My God, I do not know what must come to me today. But I am certain that nothing can happen to me that you have not foreseen, decreed and ordained from all eternity. that is sufficient for me”


Though of  noble Spanish origin, Joseph was orphaned at age nine. The parental absence generated in him a longing for commitment. This brought him to develop a filial relationship with God. At the age of 16, he committed himself to Jesus and the Society that bears his name.


With a fragile health, Pignatelli dedicated his life to lead the Jesuits through  the Suppression. In the midst of Napoleonic wars and a hostile church, Pignatelli did not doubt his vocation to the Society.  In true contemplation and action, Pignatelli’s love for the Society was the key to our subsistence. In a phrase:  a chevalier of commitment.

 7.Saint Francis Xavier: The Evangelical Enthusiast (1506-1552)

“Many, many people hereabout are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians”


Though born in an aristocratic cradle , Francis lost his father at the age of nine. This put his family into financial difficulties. After doing some saving, he pursued his dream of becoming an student in Paris. However, his career ambitions were modified by meeting Ignatius. He did not want personal success, but  to bring the good news to all the corners of the earth.


The rest is known in history. For sometime, Xavier became Ignatius’ personal assistant in Rome  (like a Pegasus locked in a chain gang). However, Ignatius thought that Francis would be the perfect missionary.  In a mixture of spontaneity and adaptability, Francis became known as the Apostle of the Far East. In a nutshell:  a versatile seeder of the Lord’s vineyard.

 8.Saint Alberto Hurtado: The Merciful Challenger (1901-1952)

“ If there is a poor man who suffers injustice, I have an obligation to him. I have a debt that I cannot declare myself free until it is paid”


Similarly to Francis Xavier, Alberto lost his father when he was four years old.  This forced his mother to life in austerity. Since his early years,  he become aware of the abuses against the poor.  The need to fight injustice  brought him to become a Jesuit.


As a Jesuit, he had to fight  the different social structures of Chile. Ignatianly inspired, Hurtado believed that faith is active. (Even if that involved going against the status quo.) By his dedication with the most needy, he became a pioneer of Catholic Social Teaching. (Long before Vatican II) In a few words: a decisive soldier of Divine Justice.

9.Saint Jacques Berthieu: The Kingdom’s Peacemaker (1838-1896)

“The mission progresses, while the fruits are still in hope and in many places barely visible in others. But what does matter, as long as we are good sowers, God will push his time.”


Coming from a French farmers family,  Jacques learned of peace in the quiet countryside. His desire to bring peace to God’s people made him become a priest for the diocese of Saint-Flour. But his heart longed for more, so he joined the Society at the age of 35.


Willing to  become a missionary, he was sent to the islands of the Indian Ocean. It was in Madagascar where his negotiation abilities were put to the test.  In the midst of the Franco-Malagasy War, Berthieu took one position: that of Christ’s peace.  With complacent character, he managed to save dozens from the insurgents. His commitment to peace took him to martyrdom. In a phrase: Christ’s easy-going  Herald of Peace.


As I mentioned before, this is not really the correct approach to using the Enneagram . If we could ask these Jesuits  about their personalities, the results would probably vary. However, in their way of living, they left us a transcendent example. In their paths of holiness, they brought their whole being (including their personality) to the service of Christ the King. I hope that in the example of these heavenly companions in the Lord, I too could use my whole being to the Greater Glory of God. 


2 thoughts on “A Jesuit Litany according to the Enneagram

  1. Was there any need to bring the Enneagram into this post? It inspires as a listing of some of the great Jesuit saints. Except for the first and last paragraphs, no connection is made to the Enneagram.

    I am disturbed when the Enneagram is presented as a way to study personality. There is no scientific evidence for its validity, and its history is suspect. In my experience with the Enneagram, it is presented as being true, when there is absolutely no evidence that it accurately describes personality types – the only evidence given for its validity is that it is based on Sufi mysticism, with the assumption that 1) this connection is accurate, and 2) the version of Sufi mysticism described is true. Neither of which is obvious to me or many others.

    I fully support using tools for self-reflection, and in my experience being presented with the Enneagram (in the context of a vocations programme), it was useful for the other participants because it introduced them to the idea of personality types and connected behaviour patterns. However, other tools, such as the Myers-Briggs, NEO-PI-R/NEO-FFI, or other recognised and tested personality inventories achieve the exact same goal, but more reliably, and without asking participants to suspend their critical faculties. (Indeed, I have criticisms of personality inventories in general, but as least the givers of these inventories are generally more realistic about their limitations.)

    Heck, even an exercise asking people which Jesuit saint from the above list most matched their personality, why, and how their behaviour might be affected accordingly would be more helpful, and more valid, than the Enneagram.

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