John Cuidad born in Montemor-O-Novo, Portugal, in 1495.
In 1537, John Cuidad (later known as Saint John of God), was a little-known bookseller in the city of Granada, Spain. Sensitive to the suffering and pain of the many homeless people and travellers who sought shelter in doorways or wherever they could find it, John began to bring those who were sick and weak and those unable to cope, to share his accommodation in the porch of the house of his friend, Venegas. This was the stark and simple, yet profoundly beautiful beginning of the work which today still bears his name.
John Cuidad was born in 1495; the only child of Andrew and Theresa Cuidad in Montemor-O-Novo in Portugal. Much of his early life is unknown. Historians however, agree that at a very young age, he was taken from his parent’s home and brought to Spain. From his arrival until we meet him 35 years later in Granada it appears he lived an adventurous life style. At various times he worked as a shepherd, a soldier and a book vendor. In 1538 his travels ended in Granada, a city recently won back from the moors. In Granada John experienced a religious conversion so dramatic in its outward expression that he was considered by the community to be insane and taken to the asylum at the Royal Hospital. During this distressing period John experienced the loss of freedom, loss of self worth, dehumanization, stigmatization and lack of respect experienced by people labelled as ‘Mentally ill’ through the ages.
This painful period brought him in contact with his own vulnerability and the pain and distress of others less able to endure the humiliation and brutality of the treatment of mental illness in the 16th Century. On leaving the asylum, John shows a new realization of what God wanted him to do with the remainder of his life. For the next Eleven years until his premature death at 55 years of age, John lived the Gospel of Matthew 24, “what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me,” in a radical manner.
His selfless dedication to the sick and marginalized brought him to be known throughout Spain as ‘Father of the poor’ and before his death ‘John of God’. The legacy of John of God is a movement of compassion inspired by gospel values, launched through his hospital in Granada embraced by his first companions and carried on down the centuries to the present day by the religious family recognized by the church in 1572 as the Hospitaller Order of John of God.
Today worldwide the family of Saint John of God numbers some 35, 000 professed Brothers, co workers, volunteers and benefactors ministering in 52 countries across all 5 continents. 12 of these countries are in Africa. The Christian community affirmed the authenticity of John of God’s heroic goodness when it declared him a saint by the process of canonization in 1690. In 1886 St. John of God was declared patron of the sick and hospitals. In carrying on the mission of Saint John of God, his followers strive to integrate his values of Hospitality, Compassion, Respect, Justice and Excellence in the exercise of their ministry to the individual; to the family; to the community.