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  • Writer's pictureOmar Gutierrez

Hope For the Lost: St. John of God

Sometimes the stories of the lives of the saints teach us that, wherever our kid, our sibling, our friend might be on their faith journey at the moment, we ought never give up on the possibility that he or she will find Jesus. Today’s saint, St. John of God, is just such a story.

Born in Portugal in 1495, his first job was as a bailiff for a lord in Castile, present-day Spain. From there, he cast his lot with the soldiers of fortune crowd, fighting for Spain against the French and then for the Hungarians against the Turks. The life of a soldier being what it is, he fell away from whatever little faith he grew up with and engaged in all sorts of sinful behavior.


Eventually, there weren’t enough wars for him to fight in, and he returned to southern Spain to work as a shepherd for a kind woman. He was now forty years old, though, and didn’t have any fortune or any prospects. He started to feel a deep remorse for his past sins, and so he decided that the best thing for him to do was to travel to the Barbary Coast (North Africa) try to help Christians escape from their Muslim slave-owners and, in the process, maybe be martyred. In his mind, it was as a win-win.

But on the way to Ceuta in Barbary, he met a destitute Portuguese family. Feeling this was a sign from God, he traveled with the family and worked for them for free until they could get on their feet. But then the family left the Catholic faith. John was lost again, and when he went to his confessor to pitch his original plan of getting martyred, the priest convinced him that his plans wouldn’t work. Dejected, John returned to Spain.


The year is now 1538, and the forty-three year old John decided to set up a gift shop selling religious items and books in Granada. His business thrived, but on January 20th, 1539 a preacher came to town by the name of John of Avila. Our John was so taken by the priest’s preaching about the need to repent that he cried for hours, he tore out his hair, he walked about town hitting himself with a stick, he went home and sold his business and wandered about the streets of Granada filthy, sobbing, mad.

Then, some kind soul took our John to a home for the sick and told John of Avila. The future St. John of Avila sought out this wretched creature who had been roaming the streets of Granada and told him to stop the behavior and accept the love and mercy of God by channeling it into the love of others. This changed our John immediately. He stayed in the home until October and then started to work various jobs in order to earn money so as to help care for the sick and the poor.

Eventually, he bought a house where he could house the sick. During the day he would care for the poor within the walls of this makeshift hospital; and during the evening he would walk about begging for food and donations as well as looking for abandoned souls for whom he could care. Eventually, donations came to him. The Archbishop of Granada supported the work. It was a neighboring bishop who dubbed him John of God. Other men, young and old, started to attach themselves to John of God, wanting to emulate his dedicated service to the poor. They came to be known as the Hospitilars, and it was they who witnessed the day when a fire had broken out in the hospital. They told how John had walked through and stood amidst flames as he went back and forth into the hospital to carry out the sick before they were consumed. He was not so much as singed.

Our St. John of God died while on his knees praying on March 8, 1550, at the age of fifty-five. The entire city of Granada came out to pay him their respect.


Now, only the last eleven years of his life were properly devoted to the Lord. Forty of those years were spent in dissipation and sin. Almost an entire year was spent in madness and self-loathing. But all of it, every last bit of it, was part of the Lord’s plan to make John a saint and a living symbol of Christ’s loving mercy for the lost.

Never give up on your loved ones. You never know what God has in store for them if they’re open.



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