Saint of the Day – 8 March – St John of God O.H. (1495-1550 – aged 55) – Founder of the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, a worldwide Catholic religious institute dedicated to the care of the poor, sick, and those suffering from mental disorders. Patronages – against alcoholism, against bodily ills, against sickness, of alcoholics, bookbinders, booksellers, dying people, firefighters, heart patients, hospitals (proclaimed on 22 June 1886 by Pope Leo XIII), hospital workers, nurses (proclaimed in 1930 by Pope Pius XI), publishers, printers, the sick, Tultepec, Mexico
As a 16th-century Spanish soldier, John gave up religion and led a wild life. When he left the military at age 40, he became a shepherd. John decided to make a radical conversion—to go to Muslim North Africa and free Christian slaves. He saw himself dying as a martyr. His confessor helped John settle on a more prudent plan: to open a religious bookstore in Granada, Spain. He successfully managed this project. It was during this period of his life that Cidade is said to have had a vision of the Infant Jesus, who bestowed on him the name by which he was later known, John of God, also directing him to go to Granada. He then settled in that city, where he worked disseminating books, using the recent movable type printing press of Johannes Gutenberg to provide people with works of chivalry and devotional literature.
One day, John heard St John of Ávila (1500-1569) Doctor of the Church, preach and felt he must do something to show he had converted. John began publicly beating himself, tearing his hair, behaving wildly. He gave his books away. People threw stones at him and he was committed to a mental institution. John of Ávila calmed John and persuaded him to spend his energy caring for people who were sick and poor. John rented a house near Granada where those who were lepers, lame, mentally ill, paralysed and deaf found shelter.
At first, John begged for money to support those in need but soon people volunteered to help. John led a life of total giving and constant prayer. He found work for unemployed people. When the archbishop called John to his office because people complained that John kept immoral women in his hospital, he was silenced by John’s humility. John fell on his knees, saying, “I know of no bad person in my hospital except myself, who am unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.” John soon had a flourishing hospital. His helpers formed a community called the Brothers Hospitallers.
John of God died from pneumonia contracted while saving a drowning man. When John realised he was dying, he went over all the accounts, revised the rules and timetable and appointed a new leader. He died kneeling before the altar in his hospital chapel. John is the patron of hospitals.
The first biography of John of God was written by Francisco de Castro, the chaplain at John of God’s hospital in Granada, Spain. He drew from his personal knowledge of John as a young man and also used material gathered from eyewitnesses and contemporaries of his subject. It was published at the express wish of the Archbishop of Granada, who gave financial backing to its publication. Castro began writing in 1579, twenty-nine years after John of God’s death but he did not live to see it published, for he died soon after completing the work. His mother, Catalina de Castro, had the book published in 1585.