St. John of God

Today, March 8, is the Commemoration of St. John of God.

John Cidade was born in Montemor-o-Nova, Portugal on March 8, 1495.  His parents were Andre Cidade and Teresa Duarte, who were poor but very devout.  When John was eight years old, he disappeared from his home.  The cause of his disappearance is unclear, but he soon found himself homeless and begging for survival on the streets of Oropesa, Spain.  He never saw his parents again.  His mother died from grief at his disappearance, after which, his father joined the Franciscans.  John was eventually taken in by Francisco Mayoral and employed as a shepherd boy.

Mayoral was so found of John and his work ethic that he hoped to marry him to his daughter and make him his heir.  John, however, wasn’t interested, and in order to escape his adoptive caretaker’s persistent plans he joined the military.  As a foot soldier, John fought for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and was soon sent to fight the French at Fontarabia, in the Basque country of Spain.  While in Fontarabia, John was given the assignment of guarding a large amount of loot.  Unfortunately, because of his lack of diligence, thieves managed to steal much of the loot.  His superiors were suspicious that John had helped himself to the riches, and he was condemned to death.  He was spared only by an officer who intervened and granted him pardon.  Disillusioned by this episode, John returned to Oropesa and the life of a shepherd.  Four years later, he again joined the military, and for the next 18 years he served as a foot soldier fighting in various fronts across Europe.  Over the course of his military travels he returned to the land of his birth, where he learned from an uncle the fate of his parents.

After his military career ended, John found work as a shepherd in Seville.  Restless and unsatisfied with his life, he had a desire to travel to Africa and soon made his way to the Portuguese territory Ceuta on the Moroccan coast.  He found work caring for the poor, but soon came to despair over his lack of faith and spirituality.  He consulted a Franciscan friar, who recommended that he return to Spain.  John followed his advice, returning to Spain by way of Gibraltar and Andalusia.  It was at this point that John experienced a vision of the Infant Jesus, who gave him the name “John of God” and directed him to go to Granada.  John did so, and found work distributing literature on chivalry and Catholic devotion.

John experienced a religious conversion after listening to a sermon by John of Avila on St. Sebastian’s Day (January 20) in 1537.  Distraught over his past wayward life, he began a life of penance, publicly beating himself and begging God’s mercy.  John suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to the Royal Hospital for the mentally ill, enduring the treatments prescribed at that time for those suffering mental breakdown: he was segregated, chained, beaten and starved.  John of Avila, who would become his spiritual director, visited him in the hospital and encouraged John to devote himself to a life of service to others rather than one of extreme penance.  This gave John peace and he soon left the hospital to dedicate his life to the service of the poor.

Soon after, John made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura and received a vision of the Blessed Mother, who affirmed his work among the poor.  John opened a house where he cared for the sick poor, tending to them during the day while he begged for needed supplies at night.  The Bishop of Tui, Sebastian Ramirez, made a habit for John, partly in order to stop his persistent practice of giving his cloak away to beggars.  Once, when the Royal Hospital caught fire, John found the townspeople standing around watching the building and the patients go up in flames.  He ran into the hospital and carried the patients out, then ran back in to save the mattresses, sheets and blankets.  The painting at the top of this article is of John rescuing patients from the Royal Hospital fire.  He often received criticism for his work, accused of caring for troublemakers and ne’re-do-wells.  For some time, John worked alone.  Eventually, however, he inspired the support of local priests and physicians.  After still more time, disciples gathered around John and a community was formed to carry on the work he began, providing medical care to the poor.

John of God died on March 8, 1550, his 55th birthday.  The Order of Hospitallers, the community he organized for his work, was approved by the Holy See in 1572 as the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, who continue to care for the sick around the world and are even entrusted with the medical care of the pope.

John of God was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII on October 16, 1690.  He is the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters, alcoholics and booksellers.  His Brother Hospitallers continue his work in 53 countries and in over 300 hospitals and other medical centers, supported by the more than 45,000 members of the Family of Saint John of God.

Sources: “St. John of God,” CatholicOnline; “John of God,” Wikipedia.

Be Christ for all.  Bring Christ to all.  See Christ in all.

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