St. John of God

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1894:
NOTHING in John's early life foreshadowed his future sanctity. He ran away as a boy from his home in Portugal, tended sheep and cattle in Spain, and served as a soldier against the French, and afterwards against the Turks. When about forty years of age, feeling remorse for his wild life, he resolved to devote himself to the ransom of the Christian slaves in Africa, and went thither with the family of an exiled noble, which he maintained by his labor. On his return to Spain he sought to do good by selling holy pictures and books at low prices. At length the hour of grace struck. At Granada a sermon by the celebrated John of Avila shook his soul to its depths, and his expressions of self-abhorrence were so extraordinary that he was taken to the asylum as one mad. There he employed himself in ministering to the sick. On leaving he began to collect homeless poor, and to support them by his work and by begging. One night St. John found in the streets a poor man who seemed near death, and, as was his wont, he carried him to the hospital, laid him on a bed, and went to fetch water to wash his feet. When he had washed them, he knelt to kiss them, and started with awe: the feet were pierced, and the print of the nails bright with an unearthly radiance. He raised his eyes to look, and heard the words, "John, to Me thou doest all that thou doest to the poor in My name: I reach forth My hand for the alms thou givest; Me dost thou clothe, Mine are the feet thou dost wash." And then the gracious vision disappeared, leaving St. John filled at once with confusion and consolation. The bishop became the Saint's patron, and gave him the name of John of God. When his hospital was on fire, John was seen rushing about uninjured amidst the flames until he had rescued all his poor. After ten years spent in the service of the suffering, the Saint's life was fitly closed. He plunged into the river Xenil to save a drowning boy, and died, 1550, of an illness brought on by the attempt, at the age of fifty-five.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints 1895:


From his life, written by Francis de Castro, twenty-five years after his
death, abridged by Vaillet, p. 98, and F. Helyot, Hist. des Ordres
Relig. t. 4. p. 131.

A.D. 1550

ST. JOHN, surnamed of God, was born in Portugal, in 1495. His parents
were of the lowest rank in the country, but devout and charitable. John
spent a considerable part of his youth in service, under the mayoral or
chief shepherd of the count of Oropeusa in Castile, and in great
innocence and virtue. In 1522, he listed himself in a company of foot
raised by the count, and served in the wars between the French and
Spaniards; as he did afterwards in Hungary, against the Turks, while the
emperor Charles V. was king of Spain. By the licentiousness of his
companions, he by degrees lost his fear of offending God, and laid aside
the greatest part of his practices of devotion. The troop which he
belonged to being disbanded, he went into Andalusia in 1536, where he
entered the service of a rich lady near Seville, in quality of shepherd.
Being now about forty years of age, stung with remorse for his past
misconduct, he began to entertain very serious thoughts of a change of
life, and doing penance for his sins. He accordingly employed the
greatest part of his time, both by day and night, in the exercises {542}
of prayer and mortification, bewailing almost continually his
ingratitude towards God, and deliberating how he could dedicate himself
in the most perfect manner to his service. His compassion for the
distressed moved him to take a resolution of leaving his place, and
passing into Africa, that he might comfort and succor the poor slaves
there, not without hopes of meeting with the crown of martyrdom. At
Gibraltar he met with a Portuguese gentleman condemned to banishment,
and whose estate had also been confiscated by king John III. He was then
in the hands of the king's officers, together with his wife and
children, and on his way to Ceuta, in Barbary, the place of his exile.
John, out of charity and compassion, served him without any wages. At
Ceuta, the gentleman falling sick with grief and the change of air, was
soon reduced to such straits as to be obliged to dispose of the small
remains of his shattered fortune for the family's support. John, not
content to sell what little stock he was master of to relieve them, went
to day-labor at the public works, to earn all he could for their
subsistence. The apostacy of one of his companions alarmed him; and his
confessor telling him that his going in quest of martyrdom was an
illusion, he determined to return to Spain. Coming back to Gibraltar,
his piety suggested to him to turn pedler, and sell little pictures and
books of devotion, which might furnish him with opportunities of
exhorting his customers to virtue. His stock increasing considerably, he
settled in Granada, where he opened a shop, in 1538, being then
forty-three years of age.

The great preacher and servant of God, John D'Avila, {543} Apostle of
Andalusia, preached that year at Granada, on St. Sebastian's day, which
is there kept as a great festival. John, having heard his sermon, was so
affected with it, that, melting into tears, he filled the whole church
with his cries and lamentations; detesting his past life, beating his
breast, {544} and calling aloud for mercy. Not content with this, he ran
about the streets like a distracted person, tearing his hair, and
behaving in such a manner that he was followed everywhere by the rabble
with sticks and stones, and came home all besmeared with dirt and blood.
He then gave away all he had in the world, and having thus reduced
himself to absolute poverty, that he might die to himself, and crucify
all the sentiments of the old man, he began again to counterfeit the
madman, running about the streets as before, till some had the charity
to take him to the venerable John D'Avila, covered with dirt and blood.
The holy man, full of the Spirit of God, soon discovered in John the
motions of extraordinary graces, spoke to him in private, heard his
general confession, and gave him proper advice, and promised his
assistance ever after. John, out of a desire of the greatest
humiliations, returned soon after to his apparent madness and
extravagances. He was, thereupon, taken up and put into a madhouse, on
supposition of his being disordered in his senses, where the severest
methods were used to bring him to himself, all which he underwent in the
spirit of penance, and by way of atonement for the sins of his past
life. D'Avila, being informed of his conduct, came to visit him, and
found him reduced almost to the grave by weakness, and his body covered
with wounds and sores; but his soul was still vigorous, and thirsting
with the greatest ardor after new sufferings and humiliations. D'Avila
however told him, that having now been sufficiently exercised in that so
singular a method of penance and humiliation, he advised him to employ
himself for the time to come in something more conducive to his own and
the public good. His exhortation had its desired effect; and he grew
instantly calm and sedate, to the great astonishment of his keepers. He
continued, however, some time longer in the hospital, serving the sick,
but left it entirely on St. Ursula's day, in 1539. This his
extraordinary conduct is an object of our admiration, not of our
imitation: in this saint it was the effect of the fervor of his
conversion, his desire of humiliation, and a holy hatred of himself and
his past criminal life. By it he learned in a short time perfectly to
die to himself and the world; which prepared his soul for the graces
which God afterwards bestowed on him. He then thought of executing his
design of doing something for the relief of the poor; and, after a
pilgrimage to our Lady's in Guadaloupa, to recommend himself and his
undertaking to her intercession, in a place celebrated for devotion to
her, he began by selling wood in the market-place, to feed some poor by
the means of his labor. Soon after he hired a house to harbor poor sick
persons in, whom he served and provided for with an ardor, prudence,
economy, and vigilance, that surprised the whole city. This was the
foundation of the order of charity, in 1540, which, by the benediction
of heaven, has since been spread all over Christendom. John was occupied
all day in serving his patients: in the night he went out to carry in
new objects of charity, rather than to seek out provisions for them; for
people, of their own accord, brought him in all necessaries for his
little hospital. The archbishop of Granada, taking notice of so
excellent an establishment, and admiring the incomparable order observed
in it, both for the spiritual and temporal care of the poor, furnished
considerable sums to increase it, and favored it with his protection.
This excited all persons to vie with each other in contributing to it.
Indeed the charity, patience, and modesty of St. John, and his wonderful
care and foresight, engaged every one to admire and favor the institute.
The bishop of Tuy, president of the royal court of judicature in
Granada, having invited the holy man to dinner, put {545} several
questions to him, to all which he answered in such a manner, as gave the
bishop the highest esteem of his person. It was this prelate that gave
him the name of John of God, and prescribed him a kind of habit, though
St. John never thought of founding a religious order: for the rules
which bear his name were only drawn up in 1556, six years after his
death; and religious vows were not introduced among his brethren before
the year 1570....

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