Juan Ciudad was born at Montemor-o-Novo, Evora, Portugal, in 1495. When he was eight years old, he left for Spain with the cleric who had spent the night in his home, and stayed at Oropesa (Toledo) working in the service of the home of Francisco Mayoral.
He spent most of his life there. The Mayorals were shepherds. He devoted almost 20 years to grazing the sheep. Everyone liked him. It was in this time that we believe he was developing the true meaning of life, passing through the typical ups and downs of his teenage years, his youth and his maturer years.
On two occasions he left Oropesa, both times to enlist as a soldier in the war. The first time he went to the French border, to Fuenterrabía. Things did not work out well for him. He returned home to Oropesa a failure. The second time he went to Vienna, Austria, to fight the Turks. After that, he never went back to Oropesa.
Sailing back to Spain from Vienna he passed through Galicia and visited his home town, where he met practically no one he knew. He had a powerful sense that Jesus Christ was calling him to give himself up to serve the poor and the sick. Leaving Montemor-o Novo, he became like a wanderer searching to find whatever it was that the Lord wanted of him: Seville, Gibraltar and finally he reached Granada where he set himself up as a seller of books on chivalry, and also on religion.
Our tradition has it that in 1537, as he was listening to a sermon by Saint John of Avila at the Hermitage of the Martyrs, his whole being was transformed and he suffered from a massive crisis of faith, leaving the Hermitage screaming and rolling upon the ground; he destroyed his bookshop, and continued acting strangely in this manner for several days, until, considering him to be out of his mind, he was locked up in the Royal Hospital of Granada. He left a few months later, completely calm, at peace with himself, and ready to follow the Lord by offering himself to serve others.
He placed himself under the spiritual direction of St John of Avila, went on pilgrimage to the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe, and on his way home he passed through Baeza where he spent some time with the King of Spain, and as soon as he returned to Granada he began his work of caring for the sick and needy poor.
He started with absolutely nothing. The local people thought that he had gone mad again. But Little by little they began to understandhow sane he really was. He worked, he begged, he gathered in the poor, he devoted himself to them at first but, little by little, other people came along as volunteers and benefactors. The way he begged for alms was highly original, as he cried out, “Brothers, do good to yourselves!”.
He eventually founded his first hospital, the House of God, where there was room for everyone. Several companions joined him, and care was organised in the manner that he considered to be what the poor deserved. The Archbishop of Granada changed his name to John of God. He did a great deal of work on behalf of prostitutes, helping them to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.
He died in 1550, widely acclaimed as a saint.