Friday, March 08, 2019

Something I discovered about St. John of God

Something hardly ever noted in popular accounts of his life.

He was abducted as a child.
John of God was born João Duarte Cidade (Portuguese form, the Spanish form is João Cidade Duarte) in Montemor-o-Novo, now in the District of Évora, Kingdom of Portugal, the son of André Cidade and Teresa Duarte, a once-prominent family that was impoverished but had great religious faith. One day, when John was eight years of age, he disappeared. Whether he had been deliberately kidnapped, or whether he had been seduced from his home by a cleric who had been given hospitality in the home, is not clear. According to his original biography, his mother died from grief soon after this and his father joined the Franciscan Order. 
The young Cidade soon found himself a homeless orphan in the streets of Oropesa, near Toledo, Spain. There, in a foreign land, he had no one to care for him, nothing on which to live and he had to be content with whatever food he could find. He was eventually taken in by a man called Francisco Mayoral and the boy settled down as a shepherd caring for his sheep in the countryside. - Wikipedia
"Seduced from his home by a cleric..."

I never noticed that before, nor do I recall coming across it in any biography of the saint.  As I noted on Facebook, St. John of God suddenly becomes an even more interesting saint, deserving of our notice in these days of child sexual abuse scandals by clergy, as well as the problem of human trafficking - especially as it involves children.

The abduction question seems to me to be more credible since it arose with his original biographer, Francisco de Castro.
Francisco de Castro was the chaplain at John of God’s hospital at Granada. As a youth he knew the Saint and he used material gathered from eyewitnesses and contemporaries of his subject. It was published at the express wish of the Archbishop of Granada who gave financial backing to its publication. Castro began writing in 1579, twenty-nine years after John of God’s death, but he did not see it published for he died soon after completing the work. His mother, Catalina de Castro, had the book published in 1585. - source
The suspicion he was taken by a cleric who might have seduced him is startling, and relates so well to our times.  Clerical seduction and abuse, albeit seemingly pervasive in the 20th century, is obviously not endemic just to our epoch.

How did John deal with it?

Obviously in his days complaints of abuse and ill treatment were not dealt with in the same manner we do today.  John didn't file lawsuits or claim PTSD, much less write a book on what he suffered as a child.  There's no evidence he complained of parental neglect or blamed any of his failings on the abuse he suffered.  He joined the military and had a string of occupations, even accused of theft and dereliction of duty.  Military life wasn't exactly virtuous, so I suspect - I may be wrong - that the saint has some moral problems as well.

After many travels and troubles, the saint had a vision of the Infant Jesus who instructed him to go to Granada, and gave him his name, John of God.  There he became a bookseller of devotional works.

Mental illness and sanctity. 

Later, after an intense conversion experience following a sermon by S. John of Avila, the saint encountered mental difficulties.  Some biographers suggested he feigned mental illness as a sort of 'fool for Christ', I wonder if it wasn't more a sort of purification, mixed with a sort of mystical grace which Teresa of Avila mentions when discussing the foolishness for Christ St. Francis of Assisi experienced.  I don't know what the Church says in that regard however.
"At the age of 42, he had what was perceived at the time as an acute mental breakdown. Moved by the sermon, he soon engaged in a public beating of himself, begging mercy and wildly repenting for his past life. He was incarcerated in the area of the Royal Hospital reserved for the mentally ill and received the treatment of the day, which was to be segregated, chained, flogged, and starved. John of God was later visited by John of Avila, who advised him to be more actively involved in tending to the needs of others rather than in enduring personal hardships. John gained peace of heart, and shortly after left the hospital to begin work among the poor." - Wikipedia
John of God was instructed in a vision of Our Lady to work with the poor, which he did, while many continued to suspect he was mentally ill.  Eventually the Bishop helped him and others came to assist him in his work, leading to the establishment of the Brothers Hospitaller.

Abducted, abused, orphaned, inconstant, eccentric, and no support group or therapy save the Love of God - Caritas.

He's a wonderful model for losers.

 Sancta dels Folls Dona Nostra i Desamparats Innocents 


  1. I've never seen our Blessed Mother look so deeply--she's interested! The Child Jesus' gaze is also a rather Baroque way. Where do you find these paintings!?

    1. I search in other laguages - but find a lot on Pinterest.

  2. Thank you for this information about St. John of God. It is deeply inspiring, and provides tremendous hope in God's mercy.

  3. This is really very interesting. I wonder why other biographers seemingly overlooked this, or maybe thought it unimportant. Personally, I find it easier to turn to the saints for help when I know they have suffered in the same ways modern people do, and when they actually live "normal" lives - having fun and enjoying their friends and living mediocre lives, as my good St. Francis did in his carefree years before he took up Jesus's cross. Thank you for sharing this, Terry.

  4. Hmmm, I knew that about him, but I read a lot about the saints.

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  6. A spiritual tip for Lent. There is a great book I came across recently that I am reading for Lent called "Ordinary suffering of extraordinary saints" by Fr. Vincent O'Malley. It is out of print, but you can get a used copy on various on-line book sites, and it is the best book I have read about the saints including St. John of God and how they dealt with suffering in such a human and realistic way, and it is broken down by topics of various sufferings and laid out in one to two page reflections. If you get a chance, Terry and others, to get a copy, you won't regret it.

  7. Very interesting. Yes a wonderful "counter-witness" to our "success" based culture.


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