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Dr. José Gregorio Hernández: “Doctor of the Poor”

By Dominic Monti, OFM
Published in History & Saints
May 12, 2021
2 min read
Dr. José Gregorio Hernández: “Doctor of the Poor”

This past weekend, April 29, 2021, saw the beatification in Caracas, Venezuela, of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández, a physician and Secular Franciscan (1864-1919), known as the “doctor of the poor.”

Shrine to Dr Hernandez Isnotu Venezuela 700pxls
PHOTO: Shrine to Dr. José Gregorio Hernández in his birthplace—Isnotú, Venezuela

A brilliant student

José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros was born on October 26, 1864, in Isnotú, a small village in the state of Trujillo in the Venezuelan Andes. The oldest of seven children, his mother was a housekeeper; his father sold pharmaceuticals and livestock. When he was 13, he expressed his desire to go to law school, but his mother convinced him to study medicine. He therefore went to Caracas to study: first at a prestigious academy and then at the medical school of the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), where he was considered a brilliant student.

Doctor, teacher, author

After graduating in 1888, he received a grant from the Venezuelan government to pursue studies in Europe under prominent experts, where he delved into histology, bacteriology, and pathology. Returning to Venezuela in 1893, he founded chairs in those subjects at the UCV, while practicing at a teaching hospital. He was the author of numerous scientific and medical research works as well as some literary essays.

A Secular Franciscan

Besides his impressive academic and professional contributions, Dr. Hernández deepened his Catholic faith, becoming a Secular Franciscan at the Capuchin church in Caracas in 1899. He attempted to study for the priesthood after that two different times, but his delicate health forced him to withdraw from the seminary.

Selfless labor on behalf of the sick

Dr. José Gregorio became especially well-known for his selfless labors on behalf of the sick during the great influenza epidemic of 1918, becoming known in Caracas as the “doctor of the poor,” often buying medicines for them out of his own pocket. He met his death on June 29, 1919, accidentally struck by one of the few automobiles in Caracas at the time, when he was out obtaining drugs to treat an elderly poor woman.

Popular devotion to him has increased

There was a tremendous outpouring at his death, and popular devotion to him in Venezuela has only increased over the years.

Church of Nuestra Senora de la Candelara Caracas burial place of Dr Hernandez 700pxls
PHOTO: Church of Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria, Caracas, Venezuela, the burial place of Dr. José Gregorio Hernández

Informational video and Pope Francis’s message

Watch an informational video

See Pope Francis's message on this occasion

Dominic Monti, OFM

Dominic Monti, OFM

Professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University

Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor. 


In Memoriam
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