Madeira, known as the pearl of the Atlantic, is an island with fabulous landscapes admired by men, because there is still no human endeavour that can equal that of nature. In fact, amidst its green fields, the colours of the most varied and rare flower species, the azure blue sea and the shadows cast by the mountains, we find what makes this island in the middle of the ocean, something of a paradise. Until a few decades ago, it was difficult to get around Madeira. Some places could only be reached by sea. That was how the brave Brothers who founded the St. John of God Health Centre found this land.
Not going into detail about Quinta do Trapiche, it is worth mentioning that this appears to refer to the 18th century. The Quinta belonged to the Gouveia family who built a manor house.
In 1907, its owner, Ms. Maria Paula Rego, had promised the Bishop of Funchal, Manuel Agostinho Barreto, to offer it to the Order of St. John of God, so that the Brothers could come and found a Health Centre for the mentally ill. When the Hospitaller Brothers, contacted by the Bishop, came to the island to talk to the lady, she informed them that she had changed her mind. In fact, she had been influenced by some Freemasons (they had spoken to her about the increasing dangers of Jesuitism in Madeira).
In 1920, Brothers Elias Pereira de Almeida and Manuel Maria Gonçalves returned to the island because the General Council was discussing the possibility of the Order of St. John of God taking charge of the Câmara Pestana Asylum. This sparked a polemic and nothing was achieved. The religious Brothers returned to mainland Portugal, as in 1907, without success. As the Bishop of Funchal was willing to assign part of Quinta do Trapiche to the Brothers, whichh had been donated to the diocese by Ms. Maria Paula Rego, on 22 February 1922, Brothers António Maria Rodrigues (a Madeira native) and Manuel Maria, who was to become the first Superior of the Trapiche health centre, set sail for Funchal. On the pretext of raising funds for Telhal, they went to study the possibility of founding the institution.
The first patient was admitted on 19 October 1923. On 21 May 1924, the Trapiche Health Centre received 38 patients, men who were inpatients of the Câmara Pestana Asylum. In fact, the day before, an agreement had been signed between the General Council of the District of Funchal, the governing entity of the Region of Madeira and the St. John of God Health Centre, according to which the Brothers committed to receive the male patients of the Asylum, as well as all those sent by the General Council.
The payment made allowed the Brothers to meet all the needs and costs for the care of patients.
At the time, access was difficult and the Trapiche Health Centre is located on a high hill. Patients were transported by bus as far as possible. Those who were fit enough, climbed the hill on foot. Other patients would be carried uphill on the backs of the Brothers of St. John of God. It is worth mentioning Dr. João Francisco de Almada, who contributed in a valuable manner to the foundation of the St. John of God Health Centre, and was its first Clinical Director.
On 10 August 1924, the St. John of God Health Centre was officially opened, with the Eucharist being celebrated by the then Provincial, Father Juan Jesús Adradas (Spanish Brother) and the Bishop of Funchal, Manuel Pereira Ribeiro, giving the homily. We cannot fail to underline how difficult life in Trapiche was at that time.
The poverty in which the Brothers lived, the distance they were from everything (to go to the city of Funchal, they had to take shortcuts on foot, as cars could not get there), the lack of drinking water. Finally, the people of Madeira, in a true example of solidarity, helped them a lot.
The pilgrimages and the donations they brought, the supply of water springs above Sítio do Trapiche, made it possible for their work to continue, for the sick to be looked after and for the Brothers to feel happy in the experience of Hospitality in this region. The people of Madeira were generous towards the St. John of God Brothers, having contributed important resources so that they could multiply the gifts they wanted to share in the service they had chosen: love, charity, dedication and selflessness for the relief of those suffering. The materials for the first buildings were carried on their backs because there was no alternative; there were no roads and the terrain was very steep.
As a curiosity, it is worth highlighting that the greates number of patients that ever lived in this Health Care Centre was 506 people in 1976.
We all wish that the St. John of God Health Centre continues to be worthy of its history and of the work of the Brothers, and of those who continue its work to this day, Brothers, collaborators, volunteers and benefactors.