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John of God, St.


Founder of the Brothers Hospitallers; b. John Ciudad, in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, March 8, 1495; d. Granada, Spain, March 8, 1550. John Ciudad, as a youth, was a shepherd in the service of the bailiff of the count of Oroprusa in Castile. In 1522 he enlisted in a company of soldiers raised by the count, and fought in wars between the Spaniards and French, and later, in Hungary, against the Turks. While a soldier, he gave up the practice of his religion and lived an immoral life.

At about the age of 40 he left the military life and returned to Spain, where he became a shepherd. He became remorseful over his sinful life while a soldier and attempted to enter Africa to ransom captives and, possibly, to become a martyr. Assured by a confessor that his wish for martyrdom was ill founded, he returned to Spain. In 1538 he opened a small shop in Granada, where he sold books and religious pictures. Here, influenced by a sermon of St. john of avila, he became very extreme in his conduct, running about the city praying for mercy. For some months he was committed to a lunatic asylum. Through the counsel of John of Avila, he recovered and devoted himself to the care of the sick poor.

In Granada he rented a house, which he supported by his own labor and in which he cared for the abandoned sick of the city. He soon attracted others to the work, and his apostolate of the sick won the approval of the archbishop of Granada. John was an able administrator; he operated his hospital in a businesslike way and was consulted on the setting up of homes for the sick in other parts of the country.

He had no thought, it seems, of founding a religious community. His work drew others into the care of the sick. The bishop of Tuy, who gave him the name John of God, prescribed a habit for him and his companions. A rule, bearing his name, was drawn up after he died, and his followers were approved as a religious congregation in 1571 by pius v. Final approval was given to the order in 1596 by sixtus v.

John was canonized by alexander viii in 1690, although the bull was not issued until the following year, by innocent xii. In 1886 leo xiii declared St. John, with St. camillus de lellis, patron of hospitals and the sick. In 1930 pius xi declared him patron of nurses. He is also honored by booksellers and printers. Generally St. John is pictured with the symbol of a pomegranate surmounted by a small cross; the pomegranate stands for the city of Granada and refers to the legendary visitation he received from the Child Jesus, who told him, "Thou wilt find thy cross in Granada."

Feast: March 8.

Bibliography: Acta Sanctorum March 1 (1668) 814-60. a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater, 4 v. (New York 1956) 1:517520. pius xi, "Expedit plane" (apostolic letter, August 28, 1930) Acta Apostolicae Sedis S 23 (1931) 89. m. gÓmez-moreno, Priniclas históricas de San Juan de Dios (Madrid 1950), n. mcmahon, St. John of God (New York 1953). w. cross, St. John of God: Patron Saint of Hospitals, the Sick, Nurses and All Who Look After the Sick (London 1977). r. d. rumbaut, John of God: His Place in the History of Psychiatry and Medicine (Miami, Fla. 1978). p. dreyfus, Saint Jean de Dieu: le père de l'hôpital moderne/Paul Dreyfus (Paris 1995), includes extensive bibliography. a. de gouveia, Vida e morte de S. João de Deus: seguida das cartas do Santo e da sua iconografia, ed. m. cadafaz de matos, tr. m. de andrade (Lisbon 1996). orden hospitalaria de san juan de dios, Iconografia: San Juan de Dios in México, América Central (Mexico City 1997).

[t. j. munn]

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