St. John of Avila
St. John of Avila—The Preacher and Saint Who Inspired St. John of God The Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God—and many other individuals—have been inspired by the miracles, good deeds and teachings of St. John of God. During his lifetime thousands of people were helped or cared for by this wonderful saint, and his legacy continues on even hundreds of years after his death. Each person who is inspired by St. John of God, passes on this inspiration by caring for those who are poor, sick or suffering.
Yet, even saints receive inspiration from other sources. Before he began his lifelong mission of caring for the poor of Granada, Spain, St. John of God was inspired by another saint, St. John of Avila. On January 20, 1537 (St. Sebastian’s Day) at the age of 42, St. John of God listened to a sermon by St. John of Avila, a leading preacher of the day. St. John of God was so moved by the sermon that it was the start of a major religious conversion for him.
Unfortunately at the time, this conversion was instead perceived by the public as an acute mental breakdown. St. John of God publicly beat himself, begging God for mercy and forgiveness of his past sins. He was incarcerated in the Royal Hospital in Granada in the area reserved for the mentally ill. Within the hospital, St. John of God was treated horribly; he was beaten and starved.
During the time he was in the hospital, St. John of Avila came to visit St. John of God. St. John of Avila convinced St. John of God to become more actively involved in caring for the needs of others by setting aside his own hardships. He also became St. John of God’s spiritual advisor. Shortly after this visit from St. John of Avila, St. John of God left the hospital and began working with the poor of Granada.
Known as the “Apostle of Andalusia” (Andalusia is the southern region of Spain where Granada is located), St. John of Avila preached his first sermon on July 22, 1529. Eight years took place between when St. John of Avila preached his first sermon and when St. John of God underwent his religious conversion. During this time, St. John of Avila received a widespread reputation as a powerful speaker. He regularly packed churches with his sermons denouncing evil.
Like St. John of God, St. John of Avila was also briefly incarcerated for a short period of time. However, he was declared innocent, and his imprisonment only served to increase his popularity.
In addition to being the spiritual advisor to St. John of God, St. John of Avila was also a spiritual advisor to St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis Borgia, St. John of the Cross and St. Peter of Alcantara. He was also closely affiliated with members of the Society of Jesus and helped them grow within Spain and its colonies.
St. John of Avila’s passage to sainthood continued over several centuries and with several popes. He was declared venerable by Pope Clement XIII on February 8, 1759. He was beatified by Pope Leo XII on November 15, 1893. Pope Paul VI canonized him on May 31, 1970. Pope Benedict XVI named him a Doctor of the Church on October 7, 2012. He is quoted as saying the following about St. John of Avila.
“He knew how to penetrate in a uniquely profound way the mysteries of the redemption worked by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he united constant prayer to apostolic action. He dedicated himself to preaching and to the more frequent practice of the sacraments, concentrating his commitment on improving the formation of candidates for the priesthood, of religious and of lay people, with a view to a fruitful reform of the Church.”
Through St. John of Avila’s sermons, St. John of God was inspired to live a life of ministry and caring. Through St. John of God’s amazing life and charitable works came the rise of the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God. Today the Hospitaller Brothers operate in 53 countries serving thousands of people both locally and worldwide. One man can truly make a difference.