Saint of the Day: St. John of God – March 8
St. John of God (1495 -1555) was born Joao Cidade in Montemor-o-Novo (Evora) in Portugal on March 8, 1495. He spent much of his life working in Spain for the Mayoral family in Oropeza as a shepherd. Later he became a soldier of fortune, enlisting twice in the army. After his second enlistment, which had taken him to Austria to fight the Turks, he traveled through Spain and North Africa. Juan Ciudad, as he was known in Spanish, settled in Granada and became a seller of books on chivalry and religion.
In 1537, St. John of God heard a sermon by St. John of Avila and underwent an intense conversion experience. His reaction was extreme. He destroyed his book shop and acted deranged for several days. He was finally committed to the Royal Hospital of Granada, since he seemed to have gone mad. A few months later, he left, calm of spirit, and put himself under the direction St. John of Avila. After a brief pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in southern Spain, he returned to Granada and took up his work in service of the poor.
He became known as Juan de Dios, John of God, because of his great love and service to the destitute and the ill. St. John of God was given a habit by the local bishop, who also confirmed the name everyone had given him. He was very good not only at soliciting money and support for his hospital but he also created a relationship between the donors and the recipients. Volunteers provided services and the recipients were encouraged to pray for their benefactors. He was at ease with all levels of society and was especially known for listening to people’s problems and offering encouragement if nothing else. St. John of God reached out to the most despised members of society, the prostitutes, and helped many to find other ways to support themselves and lead lives of dignity.
On his birthday, March 8, 1555, a day that would become his feast day, St. John of God went to his reward. The co-workers he had attracted, formed a religious order, the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God, to carry on his work all over the world. The core of St. John of God’s spirituality is hospitality – that virtue of acceptance and care that sees Christ in the guest at the door and among those most in need.