The foundation of the Brotherhood and its continuance throughout almost five centuries since the saint’s death in 1550 has been inspired by the actions and teachings of the man known to history as Saint John of God. He was born João Cidade in Portugal in 1495, however from the age of eight he lived in Spain where he was called Juan Ciudad. He was an adventurous type who liked to travel and see new places. Starting off his working life as a shepherd, he later became a soldier and an itinerant book peddler. Eventually he settled down in the southern Spanish city of Granada in 1538.
In Granada he experienced a religious conversion that led him to undertake acts of penance that were seen by many as signs of mental illness – for which he was hospitalised. That experience moved him to devote the remainder of his life to all those he could reach who suffered from any kind of need, sickness or deprivation. Before he died, at the age of 55, his selfless dedication to the poor, sick and needy of society brought him to be known throughout Spain as both “John of God” and “The Father of the Poor”.
The movement of compassion launched by John of God through his hospital at Granada has been carried on down through the centuries by the Religious Order that emerged from the group of employees, volunteers and benefactors that gathered around him in Granada.
That religious institute is known officially at the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God. It operates some 450 health and social centres and services in 54 countries. The professed Brothers of the Order, who number almost one thousand world-wide, are the nucleus of the wider group of followers of St. John of God that is made up of some 90,000 persons throughout the world – Brothers, benefactors, 30,000 volunteers and 60,000 paid workers.
For administrative purposes the communities and works of the Order are grouped in Provinces. The communities and works of the Order in the South Pacific form the Province of Oceania. The Brothers arrived in Australia from Europe in 1947 almost immediately after the cessation of the Second World War, and their initial works were in special education in New South Wales and Victoria.
Subsequently they also became involved in mental health services and established two psychiatric hospitals in New South Wales. In due course they expanded their special education work to New Zealand where they also operated a hospital for chronically ill and disabled persons.
In 1972, the Province extended its operations to Papua New Guinea, initially operating a Cheshire Home and then undertaking the provision of rural health services in the Gulf and Sepik regions. Today their main work in Papua New Guinea is the conduct of a drop-in day centre for people with mental health problems.
In 2007, affected by reduction in the number of Brothers and their increasing age and infirmity, the Province merged its psychiatric hospitals, other facilities and many services with an existing corporate entity, St John of God Australia Ltd. Established as a completely separate and autonomous body, by the Sisters of Saint John of God, this PJP had been operating St John of God Health Care across Australia for many years.
The Brotherhood in Oceania, in common with many religious, civic and societal institutions, is not attracting new members and has not done so for some years. Information in this regard can be sought by clicking here.