Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland – Brother Hospitallers of Saint John of God

photograph of an unidentified Brother Hospitaller of Saint John of God from the book Monasteries and Religious Houses of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903, photographer unknownArticle

Active. Under Solemn Vows. Founded 1540. Motto: Charitas.

The members of this hospital Order are known by various names in various countries; in Spain they are known as Brothers of Hospitality, in Italy as the “Fate ben Fratelli,” in Germany as the Brothers of Mercy, here and in France as the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. They direct homes for incurables and for the old and helpless, hospitals, asylums for the insane, hospices for aged and infirm priests, and in some provinces they have the care of military hospitals.

They were founded at Granada, in Spain, by the above-named Saint in his fortieth year, when he made a solemn resolution henceforth to serve God in His poor and sick members. He was born at Monte-Mor-o-Novo in Portugal in the year 1495, and from the age of thirty-nine began a wonderful life of prayer, penance, and charity towards his neighbour. It is related in the life of the Saint that he used to wander through the streets of Granada crying out, “Do good, my dear brothers, for the love of God,” and on this principle he afterwards founded his Order. It is also said that one day our Lord appeared to him and told him that He was much pleased with his work, and for that reason He wished him to be called Saint John of God.

In 1540 he built a house in Granada for the reception of the sick and afflicted, and this was the germ of the celebrated hospital of Granada and the foundation of the Order. The Bishop of Granada inspected the hospital, and did all that he could to promote its success, though at first neither he nor Saint John contemplated starting a new Order; their first idea was to organize a guild of people living in the world who would undertake to nurse the sick in hospitals and wear a distinguishing dress. The first companions of Saint John in this work were Antony Martin and Peter Velasco, but he gave them no rule during his life; they followed his example and his directions in nursing the sick. After a wonderful life of prayer, penance, and heroic virtue, he died on his knees before the altar in 1550, and Brother Antony was chosen Superior of the Brothers, and, thanks to the generosity of King Philip II, a hospital was founded at Madrid; and soon afterwards, at Cordova and many other Spanish towns, hospitals were erected on the same plan as Saint John’s at Granada. The Saint was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII in 1590.

In 1572 Pope Pius V confirmed the Brotherhood, and gave them the rule of Saint Augustine, and the power to choose one member as Superior and one for the priesthood, to minister to the spiritual needs of the Brothers and of the sick under their care; he also put them under obedience to the Bishop of the diocese in which they lived. The Brother Sebastian Arias, who was sent to Rome to obtain the Papal approbation, founded there the Hospital of Saint John Calybite, and, with the help of John of Austria, the Hospital of Our Lady of Victories at Naples, and the equally celebrated hospital at Milan.

The Order spread so fast that in 1586 it had eighteen hospitals, and held its first General Chapter at Rome at which the Constitutions were drawn up. These were approved by Pope Sixtus V and confirmed by Paul V in 1617, who, in a Papal Brief, declared the Brothers to be true religious, and Urban VIII, in 1624, granted them all the privileges and rights of the Mendicant Orders.

The Spanish houses had no connection with those in other countries, so there were two Generals of the Order, one for Spain and the West Indies, and one for France, Germany, Austria, and Italy; the former till modern times resided at Granada, the latter at Rome.

The first hospital of the Order in France was at Saint Germain, Paris, founded by Queen Mary de’ Medici; eventually forty hospitals in various parts of France were entrusted to the Brothers’ care.

During the Revolution most of these were sacrificed, but the Brothers were so generally useful that after order was restored they were able to return, and at present they have numerous hospitals in France, where they are known as the Brothers of Charity; they have devoted themselves especially to the care of the insane, but not exclusively; they also have charge of incurables, of the aged, and of the sick.

The Brothers have hospitals in England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Bavaria, Spain, Poland, Brazil, and two in the Holy Land. When the plague raged in Vienna in 1713, the Brothers were called to nurse the stricken in the infirmaries, and nearly all fell victims to it.

Besides the three usual vows, the religious of this Order take a fourth vow of lifelong devotion to the care of the sick.

The novitiate lasts two years; novices may be admitted between the ages of fifteen and thirty; they devote their free time to the study of medicine and surgery, but only a few are allowed to become priests. The direction of the hospital itself is under a secular Governor, and the house-surgeon must also be a secular; these are assisted by the Brothers, who after being trained act as nurses, and who are often graduates in medicine and surgery. Although the Order is not clerical, priests desiring to devote their sacred ministry to the Brothers and the patients are received.

The habit is of black cloth with scapular of the same material, and a little round stiff capuce or hood; a leather girdle is worn round the waist. Since the political troubles of 1856 and 1868 in Spain, the Spanish houses have been suppressed, and there is only one General for the whole Order; his seat is in Rome at the Convent of Saint John Calybite.

The Hospitallers live in the hospitals under a Prior, where they spend their time in serving the sick, and in performing the usual duties and exercises of the religious life. They assist daily at Holy Mass, and meet together for prayers, meditation, the recital of the Office of Our Lady, spiritual reading, meals, and recreation.

The Order now contains 11 provinces. The number of the Brothers is now 1,480, and they have 105 hospitals and 13,000 beds.

There is one hospital in England of the Order at Scorton, near Darlington, Yorkshire, founded in 1880. There is a house at Stillorgan, near Dublin.

The North American Hospital was founded from the French province.

MLA Citation

  • Francesca M Steele. “Brother Hospitallers of Saint John of God”. Monasteries of Great Britain and Ireland, 1903. CatholicSaints.Info. 29 November 2018. Web. 17 April 2021. <>