As a 16th-century Spanish soldier, John gave up religion and led a wild life. When he left the military at age 40, he became a shepherd. John decided to make a radical conversion—to go to Muslim North Africa and free Christian slaves. He saw himself dying as a martyr. His confessor helped John settle on a more prudent plan: to open a religious bookstore in Granada, Spain. He successfully managed this project.
One day, John heard John of Ávila preach and felt he must do something to show he had converted. John began publicly beating himself, tearing his hair, behaving wildly. He gave his books away. People threw stones at him, and he was committed to a mental institution. John of Ávila calmed John and persuaded him to spend his energy caring for people who were sick and poor. John rented a house near Granada where those who were lepers, lame, mentally ill, paralyzed, and deaf found shelter.
At first, John begged for money to support those in need, but soon people volunteered to help. John led a life of total giving and constant prayer. He found work for unemployed people. When the archbishop called John to his office because people complained that John kept immoral women in his hospital, he was silenced by John’s humility. John fell on his knees, saying, “I know of no bad person in my hospital except myself, who am unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.” John soon had a flourishing hospital. His helpers formed a community called the Brothers Hospitallers.
John of God died from pneumonia contracted while saving a drowning man. When John realized he was dying, he went over all the accounts, revised the rules and timetable, and appointed a new leader. He died kneeling before the altar in his hospital chapel. John is the patron of hospitals.
A bishop was so impressed by John’s humility that he called him “John of God.” Invite each student to design a plaque-like illustration with his or her name and a religious title, such as “Jen the Charitable.” Have the students write on the back the reasons for their choices.
Guide the students to send cards to a children’s hospital.
Have the students select a saint from whom they would like to learn. Read to them a section of his or her biography every day.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Saint John of God by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1672. Public Domain via Wikimedia.