March 8th can be celebrated as an optional memorial for Saint John of God. He was born in Portugal on March 8th in the year 1495. He was a very impulsive child, and one day when a missionary priest was traveling through his hometown, John was captivated by his stories of traveling the world, and at the tender age of eight, he ran away from home, leaving his mother heartbroken. He traveled much with the priest, but unfortunately he became too sick to continue on.
Luckily for John, the owner of a large estate was kind enough to take him in and nurse him back to health. John stayed on the estate working as a shepherd until he was 27 years old. Then feeling pressure to marry his manager’s daughter,he fled the estate. Led by an impulse, he was off to join the Spanish army as a mercenary. Living among the soldiers, John soon neglected his earlier religious guidance and training. He fell into a wild life of drinking, gambling and theft. Then, when an incident with a stolen horse, left him facing either imprisonment or death at the hands of his enemy, the thoroughly frightened John, impulsively vowed to amend his life…again.
At first, his fellow comrades did not care about John’s new found religious conversion, but they began to resent him, when he tried to get them to amend their ways, and soon he was thrown out of the army. With no money, he was reduced to begging to try and make his way home again. He wished to find the parents he had left so long ago. Upon arriving at his old hometown, he found to his great sadness, that both his parents had died. Some even went on to say that his mother died of a broken heart, when she lost her son so many years ago.
This news was quite unsettling for John. He was overcome with remorse and grief. It consumed him.It was during these years that he battled mental anguish and despair. It was so severe that it left him questioning his sanity. Filled with remorse, he gave away everything he owned and began to beat himself publicly. He would spend hours on the streets shouting, begging God for mercy, loudly repenting of his former life. Due to his actions, he was placed in a mental hospital for a short time. While he was there, Saint John of Avila visited him. He convinced John that the way to God was to serve the needs of the poor, instead of inflicting physical punishments upon himself.
Soon after, John received a vision of the Infant Jesus who called him John of God. He rented a house and converted it into a hospital for the city’s poor and destitute. He cared for all the sick and infirm, seeking out those who no one else wanted. Once, when someone raised a complaint to the archbishop about the kind of people that John was housing, John replied to the archbishop, “I know of no bad person in my hospital, except myself alone, who am indeed unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.”
He continued to care for the sick and the poor for ten more years,until his death on March 8th, 1550. Known as the founder of the ‘Brothers Hospitallers of John of God‘ he also founded, ‘The Order of Charity.’ Saint John of God is considered the patron saint of hospitals.
Prayer in honor of Saint John of God
you who gave John of God
love and compassion for others,
grant that by doing good for others
we may be counted among the saints 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.