St John of God 8th March

John of God was born in 1495 in Portugal. As a child he left home, the reason still unknown, and ended up a homeless orphan in Spain. He found work as a shepherd, and then became a soldier, but was accused of stealing and was almost condemned to death. He returned to the farm but later decided to enlist again, and for the next 18 years he served in various parts of Europe. John eventually moved south near Seville, finding work once more as a shepherd, but began to realise that this no longer satisfied him. He wanted to see Africa, and maybe work to free enslaved Christians. On the way, he befriended a Portuguese family, but when they became ill he began to nurse them. Troubled and feeling spiritually lost from his failure to practice his faith during his years of service, he returned to Spain, trying to find what God wanted from him. A vision of the Infant Jesus is said to have directed him to go to Granada.

In 1537, John experienced a major conversion while listening to a sermon by John of Avila, a leading preacher who would encourage him in his quest to improve the life of the poor. Perceived by others as a victim of a mental breakdown, he was imprisoned in a Hospital for the mentally ill, but he regained peace of heart and left the hospital. He established a house for the sick poor, at first doing his own begging, but still found himself misunderstood and rejected. Later he received the cooperation of priests and physicians, and slowly John drew to himself a dedicated circle of disciples who felt called to join him in this service.

John of God died on 8 March 1550 in Granada and was canonized in 1690. He was later named a patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, and others. A church was erected in 1757 to house his remains, where the September Pilgrims celebrated Mass in 2006. He had organized his followers into the Order of Hospitallers, who still care for the sick in 53 countries around the world, operating more than three hundred hospitals, services, and centres. Commonly known as the Fatebenefratelli, the Do-good-brothers, in Italy, they serve a wide range of medical needs, supported by tens of thousands of benefactors and friends who identify with and support the work of the Order for sick and needy people across the world. Folks from Canton may remember the sisters who taught in St Mary’s.

Fr Matthew