John of God was born João Duarte Cidade in Portugal, in 1495. He was born to a deeply religious family who had been prominent in the community. At the age of eight, the young João disappeared from his home. It is suspected that he was possibly kidnapped. He later reappeared in Seville, Spain, wandering alone. A kindly local man gave him work as a shepherd. In the meantime, Joao's mother had died of grief.
St. John eventually joined the army. He served all over Europe for twenty years. After leaving the army, he was full of spiritual yearning. St. John of God wandered for many years, trying to understand what God wanted of him. After hearing a sermon by John of Avila, he suffered a breakdown. John of Avila later helped him recover. At about this time, John of God had a vision of Jesus urging him to devote himself to the poor.
After this, John of God gave his life to the poor. He opened a hospital for the sick and poor in Granada. John nursed the sick himself, and was particularly keen to help those who were mentally ill. His selflessness inspired many, and these became John of God’s first helpers. At first, John of God funded his hospital by begging alms.
His efforts impressed many, and several bishops supported his work. St. John of God founded the Order of St John to help the poor and the sick. St. John of God soon began to establish hospitals across Spain. John of God’s hospitals were unique, as they treated the mentally ill with kindness and dignity. Traditionally, the insane had been whipped daily as part of their ‘cure’.
John of God died in 1550, after attempting to rescue a boy during a flood in Granada.
John was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690, and was later named the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, and nurses.
St. John was a noted miracle worker during his lifetime. A child in his care experienced a miraculous recovery after being on the point of death.
John of God also helped several people with mental illness to recover and return to their old life.
John of God believed that performing good was necessary for every Christian, in order to secure their salvation:
“Do good to yourselves! Help others.”
The saint also believed we can better love God by engaging in good deeds:
“For the love of God, brothers, do good!"