Juan Grande Román (1546-1600)
Juan Grande Roman was born in Carmona, Seville, Spain, on Saturday 6th March 1546, the son of Cristobal Grande and Isabel Roman, themselves devout Christians, and was baptized by the parish priest, Andrés Muñoz. His father, a craftsman, died when John was only eleven years old.
He completed his human formation and vocational training in Seville, learning the trade of a weaver and cloth-maker. At 17 he returned home and turned to trade, selling cloth. Shortly afterwards, his work caused him to undergo a profound spiritual crisis.
Opting for God
He left his family and retired to the Hermitage of St Olalla, at Marchena, a town near Carmona, where he spent a whole year in retreat trying to discover his true vocation. He then decided to devote himself to God: he exchanged his clothes for a sack-cloth habit, renounced marriage and adopted the nickname of "Juan Pecador" ("John the Sinner").
At the same time he began caring for an elderly couple of downed-outs: he took them into his own home and catered for all their needs, going out to beg for alms for them. He then realized that his new vocation was to serve the poor and needy.
Opting totally for the poor
When he was only 19 years old, Juan Pecador moved to Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz, to start a new life there: he personally looked after needy people, prisoners in the 'Royal Prison', incurably sick and convalescents who had been left to their own devices. To help them he would beg for alms around the town.
During this time he used to frequent the church of the Franciscans, where he prayed and took spiritual advice from one of the Fathers.
Founding the "Hospital de la Candelaria" (Candlemas Hospital)
Juan Pecador attracted the admiration of the people of Jerez because of his generous life of charity.
He did everything he could to cater for their needs and eventually decided to found a hospital of his own, which he gradually extended. He devoted it to Mary and called it "Our Lady of Candlemas".
Union with St John of God
Juan Pecador devoted his whole being and all his work to God, expressed through his service to the poor, sustained by his deep life of faith and prayer.
Meanwhile, he had heard of the Institution founded by St John of God in Granada. He visited it in 1574 and decided to join it, accepting the rules and applying the same form of professed life in his own hospital.
With his new project, his witness and his exemplary self-giving he attracted new companions to join him, and he trained them according to "The Statutes of John of God".
This gave him the opportunity to reach more widely a field and work with other foundations in Medina Sidonia, Arcos de la Frontera, Puerto Santa Maria, San Lucar de Barrameda and Villamartin.
Reducing the number of hospitals
The care provided to the destitute sick in Jerez left much to be desired, while small centres mushroomed. The authorities therefore decided to reduce the number of hospitals, demanding greater efficiency. But thus measure struck at the interests of not a few, whose attachment to the hospitals was not so much out of a desire to serve the sick, but because they were a source of personal profit. His path was therefore fraught with criticism, opposition and obstacles.
The Archbishop of Seville, Cardinal Rodrigo de Castro, entrusted the delicate mission of reducing the number of hospitals and raising efficiency to Juan Pecador, whom he considered to be the most appropriate and skilled person for this task in view of his spirit, vocation and Hospitaller experience. John Grande set about reducing the number of hospitals boldly and lovingly, and despite the great and small difficulties he encountered, he revealed his particular sensitivity, capacity, sense of humour and great virtue.
The report on his hospital stated that the care was provided "with diligence, care and great charity, doing good and serving God our Lord, because he and his brothers of the cloth are virtuous men and practise this charity of caring for the needy sick".
The topical relevance of John Grande today
In addition to an intense interior life John Grande devoted himself body and soul to the external task of seeking out, caring for and serving the poor and sick, and showing his concern for the most serious and urgent issues of his day: prisoners, the convalescing sick and the incurably ill, prostitutes, rejected sick soldiers, abandoned children, etc. He truly practised all the works of mercy.
John Grande was a man who did good because he was good: a practical and efficient man of few words, a merciful tenant of the Gospel of Life, a Good Samaritan, an organizer of hospitals and of hospital care, a critical conscience against injustice, abuse of authority and inadequacy. In short, he was a prophet and apostle of health care.
The plague epidemic and his death
When he was 54, living his life dedicated entirely to his community and his hospital Jerez was stricken by a terrible outbreak of the plague. He worked everywhere, assisting the people, and devoting all his strength and generosity to them; but he was eventually infected himself, and died on Saturday 3rd June 1600.
Beatified in 1853 by Pius IX and canonized by John Paul 11 on 2nd June 1996, he was proclaimed the Patron Saint of the new Diocese of Jerez de la Frontera in 1986.
His remains are venerated in the "Diocesan Shrine of St John Grande" in Jerez, at the hospital of the Brothers of St John of God that bears his name.