Saint John of God

saint john of god painting
St. John of God saving the Sick from a Fire at the Royal Hospital by Manuel Gómez-Moreno González (1880)

John of God, a Portuguese soldier who became a health care provider in Spain, inspired his followers to found the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God, a global Catholic religious order devoted to caring for the needy, the ill, and those with mental illnesses. Nothing in John’s early years suggested that he would become holy. He was born João Duarte Cidade, and is the patron saint of bookshops, printers, heart patients, hospitals, nurses, the ill, and firefighters. When he was just eight years old, he ran away from his Portuguese home and lived in Spain, tending sheep and cattle before joining the military to fight the French and then the Turks.

On Saint Sebastian’s Day, Cidade had a profound religious awakening while listening to a sermon by John of vila, a well-known preacher of the time who would later become his spiritual director and support him in his mission to better the lives of the underprivileged. He experienced what was thought to be an extreme mental collapse when he was 42 years old. He was moved by the message, and he soon started beating himself in public while begging for forgiveness and wildly trying to make up for his old ways. He was locked up in the part of the Royal Hospital for people with mental illnesses. He was treated like everyone else at the time, which meant that he was chained, beaten, and starved. John of Avila came to Cidade and counseled him to be more actively involved in meeting the needs of others rather than tolerating his own suffering. After finding comfort, John soon left the hospital to work with the underprivileged.

saint john of god statue
statue of Saint John of God in Rome

Upon his return to Granada, he pursued his dream of establishing a hospital. By begging, he was able to rent a building, furnish it, and begin his search for the sick. He worked hard to take care of them by begging for food, getting priests to listen to their confessions, and nursing them back to health. In the years that followed, John spread his mission of mercy to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the unemployed, the prostitutes, and anyone else in need. Gradually, John’s efforts motivated others so much that they joined him. Twenty-two years after John’s death, the pope would approve this group of men as a new religious order. The most amazing of the supposed miracles was when John went into a hospital that was on fire to save people without getting burned.

Behind John’s actions of total care and love for Christ’s sick and poor people, there was a deep prayer life, which showed in his humble spirit. Because of these things, people who wanted to help joined together 20 years after John’s death to form the Brothers Hospitallers, which is now a worldwide religious order.

After ten years of service, John became sick but tried to hide it. He started to get the administrative work in the hospital in order and chose a leader for his helpers. Lady Ana Ossorio, a spiritual friend and follower, took care of him until he died.

I do want to mention that he shouldn’t be confused with the modern-day Brazilian healer and inventor of the John the God crystal bed, Joao Teixeira de Faria, who referred to himself as ‘John of God’.

To work with the Saint John of God, blue candles are a good choice because they symbolize healing. If you want to offer him flowers on your altar, lavender is considered to be the ‘unofficial ‘ national flower of Portugal. John of God is patron saint of booksellers, printers, heart patients, hospitals, nurses, the sick, and firefighters. Work with him when you want to give up the things that are holding you back from creating a better life.