Saint John of God was born in Montemor O Novo, Portugal, in 1495. When eight years old, John was placed into a family in Oropesa in Spain and later became a shepherd. Twice he enlisted in the Spanish army against the French and later the Turks. After being discharged from the army, he ultimately made his way in 1538 to Granada, where he made a living as a bookseller.
John’s life was totally changed after hearing a sermon preached by Saint John d’Avila in Granada. His response was very dramatic when he became acutely aware of God’s love for him and the emptiness of his life in return. His distressed appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness led to him being placed in the Royal Hospital for the mentally ill.
As a result of this experience, John took up the call to serve the poor and the sick because of the mistreatment of patients he experienced in the hospital. He was offered shelter in the porch of the home of Don Miguel Venegas where he brought his first patients. It was through this venture that John came to gather the support of many people and particularly the encouragement of the Bishop of Granada who gave him a distinctive form of clothing, thus sowing the seeds of the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God. After his death in 1550, others followed in his footsteps and his work continued. Today the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of God is an international health organisation operating in 50 countries worldwide.
In 1630, John was declared Blessed by Pope Urban VIII and was later declared a Saint and canonised in 1690 by Pope Alexander VIII. In 1886, he was proclaimed patron of hospitals and the sick, and in 1930 he was further proclaimed patron saint of nurses and their associations by Pope Pius XI.