St. John was born in Portugal on March 8, 1495. His parents were poor, but deeply Christian. John was a restless boy. For a while he was a shepherd, then a soldier, then a storekeeper. During his adult years he was not religious. He and his friends had lost any awareness of God. By the time John was forty, he began to feel empty. He was sad about the life he was wasting away. In church he heard a homily by the holy missionary, John of Avila. The impact of his life hit John of God. He began to weep right out loud. During the days ahead, St. John of Avila helped John begin his life again with hope and courage. John of God began to live differently. He put prayer and penance into his daily life. It is believed that a bishop gave John his name because he changed his selfish life completely and truly became “of God.” Gradually, John of God realized how much poverty and suffering filled the lives of people. He began to spend his time nursing the sick in the hospitals and asylums. Then he realized sadly that many people were too poor to have hospital care. Who would take care of them? He decided that, for the love of God, he would.
When he was forty-five, John obtained a house for the care of the sick poor. The house became a small hospital where every person in need was welcomed. Those who came to help John gradually formed a religious order for the care of the poor. They are called Brothers of St. John of God.
Some people must have wondered if John was as holy as he seemed. Once, a marquis disguised himself as a beggar. He knocked on John’s door, asking for alms. John cheerfully gave him everything he had, which amounted to a few dollars. The marquis did not reveal his identity at the time but went away very impressed. The next day a messenger arrived at John’s door with a letter of explanation and his money returned. In addition, the marquis sent 150 gold crowns. He also had fresh bread, meat and eggs delivered every morning to the hospital enough for all the patients and staff.
After ten years of hard work in his hospital, St. John became sick himself. He died on his birthday in 1550. John of God was proclaimed a saint by Blessed Pope Innocent XI in 1690.
If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive, according to his promise, a hundredfold in eternal happiness. -St. John of God
O God, who filled Saint John of God with a spirit of compassion, grant, we pray, that, giving ourselves to works of charity, we may merit to be found among the elect in your Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.