St John of God

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Founder of the Brothers Hospitallers. Patron of hospitals, the sick, booksellers and printers. St John was born in Portugal in 1495. For a few years he was a mercenary for the Count of Oroprusa and fought for Spain against the Turks in Hungary and the French. John gave up religious practice while he was in the army.

When his troop disbanded, he went to Andalusia and worked as a shepherd. At the age of about 40 he was converted to a life of dedication to God and service to the poor. Initially he dreamed of going to Africa, freeing slaves and being martyred. He was advised against this plan and lived in Gibraltar for a while selling sacred books and pictures, as a peddler. Later he opened a shop in Granada.

For a time he suffered a period of apparent madness. He ran through the streets and gave away his books. John of Avila visited him, and managed to calm him down, persuading him to devote his energies to caring for the sick and poor.

In 1539 he rented a house in Granada and filled it with sick poor people. He ran the house so efficiently the local bishop gave him a religious habit. For more than ten years St John was completely devoted to his patients. His long days of hard work were balanced by regular periods of prayer each day. His final illness was brought on after he rescued a drowning man from a flood.

He died before the altar of his hospital chapel aged 55. After his death, rules were drawn up by his followers, who took vows and became a religious order.

St John of God is shown rescuing the sick from a fire at the Royal Hospital in the painting above by Manual Gomez-Moreno Gonzalez (1880)