After being ravished by a bloody civil war in the 1860 s, Venezuela’s healthcare system was very precarious. In this context, one particularly bright medical student stood out, José Gregorio Hernández. As part of a program to modernize medicine in Venezuela, José Gregorio was sent on a scholarship to pursue medical studies in Europe. He brought back to Venezuela equipment and medical knowledge in bacteriology and pathophysiology. This was instrumental in laying the foundations for major healthcare modernization in Venezuela. Throughout his life, José Gregorio negotiated his intense Catholic faith, with his scientific leanings as a physician. His untimely tragic death in 1919 elevated him to a saintly status amongst Venezuelans. Consequently, his image became a powerful symbol for practitioners of prescientific medicine. © The Author(s) 2020.