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St. John of God

John of God was born on March 8, 1495 in Montemoro Novo, Portugal. His parents were devout and John was interested in the things of God as a boy. He was also very impetuous. At age eight or nine, he heard a visiting priest speak of the adventures waiting in the wider world. John left home without telling his parents and followed the priest to Spain. Unable to care for him or take him home, the priest left John with the manager of a large estate. The manager adopted John and he lived with the family until he was in his twenties. When the man wanted John to marry his daughter, the young man ran away to join the Spanish army; he did not feel he could marry a girl he thought of as his sister. In the army, John fell into gambling, pillaging, and drinking. When he was thrown from his horse, he decided to reform his life; he confessed and then made his fellow soldiers angry by wanting them to change too. They tricked him into deserting his post and he was kicked out of the army after narrowly escaping being executed. He went back to his foster parents and worked as shepherd; latter he joined in the war against the Turks and afterwards went to find his real parents, but discovered they had both died during his long absence. At age 38, John was on his way to Africa to ransom Christian captives, when he met a noble family being sent into exile for political reasons; he stayed with the family as their servant, though they could not pay him and when they became sick after they reached their destination, John supported them by working at a grueling job. Once the family had received pardons, John went back to Spain and supported himself by selling religious books and pamphlets. He went to Granada and opened a small bookstore; when he heard John of Avila preach on repentance, John of God impulsively wept and tore his clothes. He gave away all his books and money. Friends put him in the hospital, thinking he had gone mad. John of Avila learned of the problem and visited him, telling him that he should repent of his sins in a more constructive way. Calmer, John was allowed out the hospital’s mental department and he began to help the patients. This became his vocation. He decided to found a hospital to treat poor people who fared badly in other hospitals. He sold wood to raise funds, but seeing the poor in the streets he used the money to help them. Eventually, John rented an old, abandoned monastery and took in the homeless, as well as the sick. When the Royal Hospital caught fire, John rushed to the building and led patients to safety; he miraculously escaped when part of the building collapsed. John contracted pneumonia while trying to save a young man from a flood and he died on March 8, 1550. He is the patron of booksellers, firefighters, heart patients, nurses, and the Brothers Hospitallers.

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