Wild Juano, by Mary F. Nixon-Roulet

illustration of Saint John of God from the article 'Wild Juano' by Mary F Nixon-Roulet, The Rosary Magazine, artist unknown, 1905Article

About the time when the little Spanish lad, Inigo de Loyola, was leaving his castle home in the mountains of Guiposcoa to be come a page at the court of the king, a Portuguese boy of the same age ran away from home and went to Spain. Like the Prodigal Son of the Bible he did not find running away an easy thing, and he was forced to be come a shepherd’s boy, watching the flocks on the hills of Castile.

From this he drifted into the service of a great lord, then went to the French wars which gallant King Francis was waging against the Spanish claim to Italy. A hardened soldier, Juan next fought in the campaigns against the Turks, and hither and yon he traveled, living a gay life of adventure. He was known every where as “Wild Juano,” and well he lived up to his name, for there was seldom a deed of lawlessness in which his hand could not be traced, though he was always brave and often kind-hearted.

Yet many of the scenes through which he passed left an impression upon him, and especially the fearful things which took place among the Christian slaves in Africa. These the cruel Turks abused and punished unjustly; those who would not forsake the Christian Faith and become followers of Mohammed were tortured. They were chained together and forced to the most severe labor, beaten with stripes when they lagged over their work, too worn with fatigue to accomplish all the tasks which their cruel masters set for them. When overcome with exhaustion, they sank fainting by the roadside, where they were left to languish beneath the scorching sun. without a drop of water to cool their parched throats until death set their souls free, their miserable bodies, without grace of Christian burial, bleaching to skeletons upon the desert sands.

When Juan returned to Spain he could not forget these cruelties, and dwelling upon them, he recalled scenes in his own life, when a friend said to him one day:

“Art you so much better than the Turks? Yet you were born a Christian?”

At this reproach he felt steal over him a deep regret for his wild life, and he resolved, for penance, to devote himself to the ransom of his brother Christians. So he set sail for Africa as attendant to the family of an exiled noble whom he had once injured. He remained in Barbary for some time, working hard and supporting the exiles by his labors, aiding the slaves by finding means of communication with their friends at home, and in some cases even paying their ransom himself.

Broken somewhat in health, he at last returned to Spain and went to the lovely city of Granada, which, like a white bird, perches upon the hills of the Sierras, her winding river flowing through the green Vega of fertile loveliness.

Here there was preaching the great man of the day, John of Avila, and with a crowd of curious ones, Juan went to the splendid cathedral to hear him.

Full to overflowing was the great church, and as the wonderful man’s trumpet-like voice rang out over all that vast assembly, calling men to repent of their sins, all fell upon their knees, hard ened sinners repented and the roughest soldier wept. So great was Juan’s grief as he saw himself as he really was that he behaved almost like a madman, and indeed men thought him crazy, and, pityingly, took him to the hospital.

There he occupied himself in waiting upon the sick, and light came to him that that was his vocation. He could not shut himself up in a monastery to pray – he would go wild doing nothing. He could not preach – he had not the gift of tongues. He could wait upon sick people and care for them and give them tender sympathy. So he began at once to gather together the homeless, the poor, the sick, the injured, and to support them by his work and prayer. Soon all Granada aided him; the Bishop was his patron and a splendid hospital arose to shelter his poor brothers, as he called them.

Everywhere he went; wherever suffering or want appeared his tall figure and earnest face could be seen. In the poorest gypsy hut of the Albaicin, none were too poor, too ill, to be his friends, and the people loved him devotedly and called him “Juan de Dios” (John of God).

One day his hospital caught fire, and through the thickest name he could be seen dashing hither and yon, unharmed, until every one of his sick had been carried out. At another time he found in the streets a poor man who was so ill that he seemed near to death, and carrying him in his strong arms, Juan brought him to the hospital. Alas! every bed was full, and an attendant complained fretfully that there was no room for any more paupers and no one to take care of them.

Juan said not a word, but he carried the man to his own room, placed him on his own cot, soothed him and brought fresh water to wash his weary feet. Stooping to kiss them, he saw they were pierced with the print of the nails, and he heard a voice say:

“Juan, to Me you do all that you do to the poor in My name. I reach forth My hand for the alms you give. Me do you clothe. Mine are the feet you wash!” and as he fell upon his knees in adoration the gracious figure faded from the room, and Juan knelt in prayer till morning light.

His death was as remarkable as his life, for when he was fifty-five he jumped into the swift flowing Xenil to save a drowning boy, and died from the effects of the shock.

He was canonized by the name the poor had given him, and upon the eighth of March is celebrated his feast, that of Saint John of God.

MLA Citation

  • The Rosary Magazine, April 1905. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 April 2018. Web. 17 January 2019. <>