St. John of God, Religious

March 1, 2019

The Pastor's Page

St. John of God was born in Montemoro, Novo, Portugal on March 8, 1495. He had a difficult childhood. His mother died and his father departed to enter a monastery. He worked as a shepherd during his early years.

St. John of God moved to Spain, abandoned his faith, fell into immorality, became a mercenary soldier, and fought for King Charles V of Spain in campaigns between Spain and France, and against the Turks in Hungary.

St. John of GodAround the age of 40 he had a conversion experience, came to regret his former life of dissipation, and decided to embark on a life of prayer and penance. It was his intention to go to North Africa to serve Christians enslaved by the Moors and possibly to become a martyr. A Franciscan monk intervened and convinced him to remain in Spain, serve as an itinerant missionary, and distribute religious literature and holy pictures to the people he met along the way. He eventually settled in Granada, Spain, where he opened a bookshop.

In 1538 he heard a sermon by St. John of Avila, a mystic and gifted preacher, who challenged people to greater personal sanctity and to reject the pursuit of worldly things. John of God was overcome with guilt and shame over his former life and went overboard with his response. His spiritual fervor seemed so excessive and his personal penance so severe that he was committed to an insane asylum.

St. John of Avila visited him during his confinement and suggested that he take up a ministry to the sick and poor. He also mentioned that John would have a special compassion for the ill after his long suffering with his fellow inmates in the asylum.

After his release in 1539, St. John of God devoted the rest of his life to the care of the sick and dying. He opened a house that cared for “the crippled, the disabled, lepers, mutes, the insane, paralytics, those suffering from scurvy and those bearing the afflictions of old age, many children, and above all, countless pilgrims and travelers” (Office of Readings, Vol. III, 1405). His ministry was beneficial to others, but it also offered a spiritual benefit to him: “Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin” (1404).

He went on to found a hospital in Granada, Spain. Many were attracted by his extraordinary compassion and burning love for the troubled, and a community of volunteers formed quickly. He appointed several of his associates as chief assistants and after his death they founded a religious community, the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of God, or, the common name, the Order of Hospitallers (O.H.). Their special charism is ministry to the sick and their worldwide membership today is approximately 1000.

St. John of God died in Granada on March 8, 1550, and he was canonized a saint in 1690.

St. John of God’s primary symbol is a double cross which has a smaller cross above a larger cross. Each of the eight ends has a rounded bud in the center and points on either side. There is an open pomegranate where the crossbeams meet, and along with its seeds; it represents healing and recovery. He is often depicted holding a pomegranate or with two bowls hanging around his neck. His other symbols include a crown of thorns, a heart, an alms box, and a basket.

St. John of God is the patron saint of the sick, the dying, the mentally ill, alcoholics, nurses, and hospitals; booksellers, publishers, and printers; Montemoro Novo, his birthplace in Portugal, and Tultepec, Mexico.

About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun