About St John of God Image

St John of God was a Portuguese soldier who dedicated his life to helping the sick. He himself suffered from mental illness, and his disciples later founded the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God.

Read the full St John of God novena on the novena page. You can also learn more about novenas here.

What is Saint John of God Known For?

St John of God was born João Duarte Cidade in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, on March 8th, 1495.

John was an impulsive youth, and this continued throughout his life, which was both a gift and a difficulty for him, as sometimes he could not tell whether God was leading him to do something, or his own opinions were.

When he was just eight years old, a priest gave a talk on the age of discovery and adventure. John was enraptured, ran away from home to follow this priest, and he never saw his parents again, even forgetting their names later in life when he returned to his region.

While traveling with the priest, John fell ill and a wealthy land steward took him in and set him to work as a shepherd, which he did for the next 19 years.

This steward intended John to marry his daughter, but John did not want to, so he joined up with the Spanish army to fight against France.

John was not a faithful Catholic at this time of his life. He went along with his fellow soldiers in debauchery.

Only when he fell off a horse in battle with the French did he become fearful for his life and soul and vowed to God that he would repent.

John went to Confession and made good on his promise to God, amending his life and exhorting his brothers-in-arms to do likewise.

They were not so keen on changing their ways, though, and so set him up to be accused of abandoning his duty, for which he was sentenced to death.

A merciful officer obtained a pardon for John, so he was not executed. But he was kicked out of the military and given a sound beating for good measure.

John went back to the wealthy steward who had taken him in as a boy, and he worked on the farm until he learned of the latest Muslim invasion of Hungary.

He joined up in this war effort but either it ended or he got distracted and returned to see how his parents were doing in his hometown. He learned that his mother had died of grief after he had left, and his father had become a Franciscan and also passed away in the time he was gone.

Always looking for heroic adventure, John decided to travel to Africa and ransom back Christians whom the Muslims had enslaved.

But this plan too went awry, and he ended up helping a Catholic family who had arrived in Africa but lost their wealth and possessions. He then did hard labor and found his way back to Spain via Gibraltar, intent on deepening his conversion and Catholic faith.

He started selling books (the printing press was getting into full swing by this time) and distributed religious works and holy cards.

The infant Jesus appeared to him, gave him the name John of God, and directed him to Granada, where he was a book printer and seller.

St John of Avila preached a sermon, and when John of God heard it, he was cut to the quick.

He gave up his bookshop and then gave all his money to the poor.

He tore his clothes and repented in tears, which made him a target for insults and ridicule from his fellow townspeople, who declared him to be crazy and committed him to the Royal Hospital, where he was housed with the insane.

The treatment, such as it was at the time, involved beatings and being starved, but after 40 days St John of Avila visited him and convinced the hospital doctors to move him out of the insane asylum.

With his partial freedom, John impulsively began helping fellow patients in the hospital!

He did a wonderful job, and the hospital was greatly pleased to find a volunteer helper in him.

But John felt called to start his own hospital, so he set out to do it, with little in planning but a lot in faith.

He sold scraps and begged for money to start a hospital, which was in a small house that he rented.

In spite of many obstacles, often caused by his impulsive nature to help those in need no matter what or how, he helped many people in his hospital.

One dreadful evening, the Royal Hospital that he had once been a patient at went up in flames. Bystanders watched it burn, ignoring the people inside, but John rushed in to help them, climbed the roof and busted open a section with an axe to try to make a firebreak, fell through the roof into the fire, but then miraculously walked out the front door, unharmed!

You will see now why John became the patron saint of firefighters (and book sellers and printers, among many other things).

One last impulsive act cost him his life, but he did not regret it: a friend of his was drowning when a flood raged through the town. He jumped in to save him, failed to do so, and caught pneumonia.

He died March 8th, on his 55th birthday, full of love for God.

St John of God was beatified on September 21st, 1630, by Pope Urban VIII. St John of God was canonized on October 16th, 1690, by Pope Alexander VIII.