Acta Sanctorum: St. John of God (Mar 8)
March 08, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

March 8
St. John of God
Life (1495-1550)

Portuguese-born John Ciudad floundered his way to sainthood as John of God. It is encouraging to watch a sinner become a saint. Most of us sinners need that example.

After moving to Spain as a youth and earning his keep as a shepherd, John signed up in 1522 with a local company of soldiers. He fought first against the French, then, in Hungary, against the Turks. Army life is not the best laboratory for holiness. While in the service, Soldier John gave up what religious practices had been his and became an immoral roisterer. Fortunately, his term of enlistment finally ran out. He returned to Spain; to shepherding; and, as it happened, to his senses. A complete change of heart inspired him to make reparation for his sinful years. But how was he to do this?

John was naturally compassionate toward the suffering, and this compassion was to govern his spiritual development. First he attached himself to a family that was obliged to move into Muslim Africa. They needed his help, and he also had the hope that he might become a martyr at the hands of the Moors. Ultimately, however, his confessor told him to forget martyrdom and return to Spain. When John landed at Gibraltar, the thought occurred to him that he might help people by peddling religious books and pictures. Before long he enjoyed enough success to warrant his opening a religious book shop.

Not long afterward, however, John experienced a new spiritual crisis. While attending a powerful sermon by the great home-missionary Saint John of Avila, peddler John was so struck with his own unworthiness that he beat his breast and wailed out in church for God’s mercy. Next, he got rid of his business stock and for a while wandered about the city crying out for forgiveness, so wild in his ways that citizens stoned him as a madman and committed him to an asylum. Here John of Avila visited him and talked turkey. He told him that he had done enough of this singular penance, and should now look for some constructive way to help others. Ciudad at once calmed down.

Now John turned to the needy. First he began to peddle wood in order to earn money for the poor. Then he rented a house which he turned into a hospice for the sick poor. He had finally found his niche. Not only did his patients increase; all observers noted his skill as an organizer. The success of his hospital prompted him to set up other hospices and charitable institutions of various sorts throughout the province of Granada. The Bishop of Tuy, who called him “John of God,” urged him to establish the order of nursing brothers known today as the “Hospitallers of St. John of God” (1537). This brotherhood soon became international. They made a foundation in Rome in 1571, where they are still called the “Fate bene fratelli” because their founder always used to exhort his brethren: “Do everything well, brothers.” In the 17th century the order had 70 hospitals in South America. Their first United States hospital was inaugurated in 1941. Nor was this religious congregation simply activistic. St. John, growing constantly in spirituality, made his community’s service deeply spiritual. They were taught to see Christ in those whom they took care of.

After ten years of utter dedication to his poor, John of God took fatally ill. The cause was literally overexertion in trying to save the victims of a bad flood. Try as he might thereafter, he could not conceal his growing weakness. One day Lady Osorio, a staunch benefactor, found him lying in his cell, weak and frail, with an old coat for a blanket and a basket for a pillow. She firmly ordered that he come to her home to be cared for. The saint was embarrassed by this attention, for he claimed that he was now enjoying good food, although Jesus, in his last hours, had been offered only gall to drink. At least he was able to force himself upon his knees at the moment of death. All Granada attended this nursing saint’s funeral in 1550. He was canonized in 1690. In 1886 Pope Leo XIII named him and another converted sinner and nursing founder, St. Camillus de Lellis, as joint patron saints of hospitals and the sick. Pius XI, in 1930, declared St. John patron of nurses.

Today many men and women are obliged to give practical nursing care to sickly and aging members of their own families. Even though they are not professional nurses, I am sure that the generous founder of the Hospitallers would be quick to answer their prayers for his aid and encouragement.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture. 1 John 3:14-18
We know that we have passed from death to life
because we love our brothers.
Whoever does not love remains in death.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer,
and you know that anyone who is a murderer
does not have eternal life remaining in him.
The way we came to know love
was that he laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If someone who has worldly means
sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion,
how can the love of God remain in him?
Children, let us love not In word or speech
but in deed and truth.

(Year B). In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of Our Lady the Ever-Virgin Mary.

God before all and above everything in the world. Amen Jesus.

May God save you, my most beloved and respected brother in Jesus Christ.

This letter will let you know in what dire straits and in what very great need I am (although I still thank Our Lord Jesus Christ for everything) because, as you must know, my most beloved and dear brother in Jesus Christ, so many poor people flock here that very often even I am afraid we shall not be able to look after them all; however, Jesus Christ sees to everything and provides them with food. Seven or eight reals a day are needed for wood alone, for the city is large and very cold, particularly now in wintertime, and many poor people come to this house of God, so that counting all of them—the sick, the healthy, servers, and pilgrims—there are more than one hundred and ten. Since this house is for everybody, without making any distinctions we take in people suffering from every disease and people of every type, so that there are cripples, the maimed, lepers, mutes, the insane, paralytics, people with ringworm, and also very old people and many children — and this is without counting the large numbers of other pilgrims and wayfarers who come here and to whom we give fire, water, salt, and pots, so that they can cook. There is no income at all for all this, but Jesus Christ looks after everything, for there is never a day on which four and a half crowns—and sometimes five — are not needed for household provisions (bread, meat, chickens, and wood), not to mention medicine and clothing, which is another quite separate expense. On the days when the alms are not enough to pay for all this, I buy on credit, or else we fast. And thus I find myself a debtor and a prisoner solely for Jesus Christ. I owe over two hundred ducats for shirts, gowns, shoes, sheets, blankets, and the many other things that are needed in this house of God, and also for the maintenance of the children abandoned here.

So, my most beloved and respected brother in Jesus Christ, I often do not leave the house because of my many debts, and I am also very unhappy when I see so many poor people (who are my brothers and neighbours) suffering and in great need in both body and soul, and I cannot help them. Nevertheless, I trust solely in Jesus Christ, who will bring me out of debt, for he knows my heart. Thus I say: accursed is he who trusts in men and not in Jesus Christ alone, since you will be separated from other people whether you will or no, while Jesus Christ is faithful and constant; and because he looks after everything, may thanks be rendered to Jesus Christ for ever. Amen Jesus.

My most beloved and respected brother in Jesus Christ, I wanted to let you know of my worries, because I know that you will suffer over them just as I would suffer over yours, and also because I know that you love Jesus Christ and feel compassion for his children, the poor. This is why I am letting you know about their needs and mine. Since we all share the same aim (even though each person should follow his own particular path according to God's wishes) it is a good thing if we encourage one another. Therefore, my most beloved brother in Jesus Christ, never stop praying to Jesus Christ that he may grant me the grace and strength to resist and overcome the world, the flesh and the devil, and also humility, patience and charity towards my neighbour.

May he lead me to confess all my sins with sincerity and obey my confessor, to despise myself and love only Jesus Christ, and to profess and believe everything Holy Mother Church professes and believes. And I do well and truly profess and believe what Holy Mother Church professes and believes, and I will not budge one inch from this position; and I close and seal this with my key. (Letters; 1550)

Musical Selection
you filled the heart of Saint John of God
with the spirit of compassion;
grant that we may give ourselves to works of charity
and be numbered among those chosen
to share the glory of your kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen. (ICEL; 1998)