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St. John of God

St. John of God by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist Narrative:

San Juan de Dios

In 1537, Granada, Spain was a bustling city, growing ever more wealthy due to the explorations of the adventuresome explorers of the New World. However, as the rich became richer, the poor became poorer, more forgotten and ignored. The sick, the old and the handicapped often were left in the gutter to die or to beg. Juan Ciudad, a man who would later be called "of God," went about the streets of Granada imploring all he met to "Do good to yourself by doing good for others." Hospitalized himself for what people imagined was a "mental break down," he discovered the redemptive value of suffering. Transformed by the experience, he labored for thirteen years, unceasingly caring for those in the pain and anguish of suffering. He opened his own hospice and called it a "House of God."

"Remember Our Lord Jesus Christ and His blessed Passion and recall how He returned good for the evil they did Him," he would instruct. In the self-emptying Jesus Christ saw the manifestation of a man who died to make us well. John of God understood that love has a healing and therapeutic value for those who are sick, dying and abandoned by the systemic injustices of an economy that favored the rich, allowing the poor to become poorer. Relationships are healing and so he sought to restore human dignity to the ill and forgotten. While he poured his energy out in the service of others, the source of his energy was the crucified Christ.

John died at 55 years of age on March 8, 1550, of pneumonia, after he plunged into a river to save a young man from drowning. In 1690 he was canonized by Pope Alexander VII, and in 1886, Pope Leo XIII declared him the heavenly patron of all hospitals and the sick. He is also recognized as patron of nurses, booksellers and firemen. He is the founder of the Hospitaller Bothers of St. John of God, an order dedicated to the care of the sick and suffering.

His feast day is March 8.

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Having given up active Christian belief while a soldier, John was 40 before the depth of his sinfulness began to dawn on him. He decided to give the rest of his life to God’s service, and headed at once for Africa, where he hoped to free captive Christians and, possibly, be martyred.

 

He was soon advised that his desire for martyrdom was not spiritually well based, and returned to Spain and the relatively prosaic activity of a religious goods store. Yet he was still not settled. Moved initially by a sermon of St. John of Avila (May 10), he one day engaged in a public beating of himself, begging mercy and wildly repenting for his past life.

 

Committed to a mental hospital for these actions, John was visited by St. John, who advised him to be more actively involved in tending to the needs of others rather than in enduring personal hardships. John gained peace of heart, and shortly after left the hospital to begin work among the poor.

 

He established a house where he wisely tended to the needs of the sick poor, at first doing his own begging. But excited by the saint’s great work and inspired by his devotion, many people began to back him up with money and provisions. Among them were the archbishop and marquis of Tarifa.

 

Behind John’s outward acts of total concern and love for Christ’s sick poor was a deep interior prayer life which was reflected in his spirit of humility. These qualities attracted helpers who, 20 years after John’s death, formed the Brothers Hospitallers, now a worldwide religious order.

 

John became ill after 10 years of service but tried to disguise his ill health. He began to put the hospital’s administrative work into order and appointed a leader for his helpers. He died under the care of a spiritual friend and admirer, Lady Ana Ossorio.

 

Stories:

 

The archbishop called John of God to him in response to a complaint that he was keeping tramps and immoral women in his hospital. In submission John fell on his knees and said: "The Son of Man came for sinners, and we are bound to seek their conversion. I am unfaithful to my vocation because I neglect this, but I confess that I know of no bad person in my hospital, except myself alone, who am indeed unworthy to eat the bread of the poor." The archbishop could only trust in John's sincerity and humility, and dismissed him with deep respect.

 

Born: March 8, 1495 at Montemoro Novo, Evora, Portugal

 

Died: March 8, 1550 while praying before a crucifix, dying from an illness contracted while saving a drowning man

 

Canonized: 1690