John Bradburne

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John Randal Bradburne, O.F.S. [1] (14 June 1921 in Skirwith, Cumbria, England, UK – 5 September 1979 near Mutoko, Mashonaland South, Rhodesia – now Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe), was a lay member of the Order of St Francis, a poet, warden of the Mutemwa leper colony at Mutoko. Killed by guerrillas, he is a candidate for canonisation but has not yet received from the Holy See the title of "Servant of God", which is the first step toward canonization.

Secular Franciscan Order organization

The Secular Franciscan Order is a world-wide community of Catholic men and women who seek to pattern their lives after Jesus in the spirit of Francis of Assisi. Secular Franciscans are tertiaries, or members of the Third Order of Saint Francis founded by Francis of Assisi 800 years ago.

Skirwith village in the United Kingdom

Skirwith is a village in the English county of Cumbria.

Mutoko is a small town in Mashonaland East province, Zimbabwe. It was established as an administrative station in 1911. It lies 143 km from Harare. It is named after the local Chief Mutoko.



John Randal Bradburne was born on 14 June 1921 in Skirwith, Cumberland. [2] [3] A son of the marriage of Thomas William Bradburne and Erica May Hill in 1916, [4] he was baptised in the Church of England at Skirwith on 31 July 1921, [3] He had two brothers and two sisters. Their father, an Anglican clergyman, was Rector of Skirwith at that time. [3] The Bradburnes were also cousins of the playwright Terence Rattigan and were more distantly related to the politician Christopher Soames.

Cumberland Historic county of England

Cumberland is a historic county of North West England that had an administrative function from the 12th century until 1974. It was bordered by Northumberland to the east, County Durham to the southeast, Westmorland and Lancashire to the south, and the Scottish counties of Dumfriesshire and Roxburghshire to the north. It formed an administrative county from 1889 to 1974 and now forms part of Cumbria.

Church of England Anglican state church of England

The Church of England is the established church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the most senior cleric, although the monarch is the supreme governor. The Church of England is also the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church recorded as existing in the Roman province of Britain by the third century, and to the 6th-century Gregorian mission to Kent led by Augustine of Canterbury.

A rector is, in an ecclesiastical sense, a cleric who functions as an administrative leader in some Christian denominations. In contrast, a vicar is also a cleric but functions as an assistant and representative of an administrative leader. The term comes from the Latin for the helmsman of a ship.


Bradburne was educated at Gresham's, an independent school in Norfolk, England, from 1934 to 1939, the choice of school being chiefly because his father had gained a new benefice in Norfolk. His brother Michael was at Gresham's with him, but moved on to Eton. Bradburne was a member of the school's Officer Training Corps. He was planning to continue his studies at a University, but at the outset of the Second World War he volunteered for the Indian Army, with which his mother's family was connected. She had been born in Lucknow. He was accepted and sent for training at an Officer Cadet Training Unit at Bulford. [5]

Greshams School school

Gresham’s School is an independent coeducational boarding school in Holt in Norfolk, England. Gresham's School is one of the top 30 International Baccalaureate schools in England.

A benefice or living is a reward received in exchange for services rendered and as a retainer for future services. The Roman Empire used the Latin term beneficium as a benefit to an individual from the Empire for services rendered. Its use was adopted by the Western Church in the Carolingian Era as a benefit bestowed by the crown or church officials. A benefice specifically from a church is called a precaria such as a stipend and one from a monarch or nobleman is usually called a fief. A benefice is distinct from an allod, in that an allod is property owned outright, not bestowed by a higher authority.

Eton College British independent boarding school located in Eton

Eton College is an English 13–18 independent boarding school and sixth form for boys in the parish of Eton, near Windsor in Berkshire. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as The King's College of Our Lady of Eton besides Wyndsor, as a sister institution to King's College, Cambridge, making it the 18th-oldest Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference school.

War Service

In 1940 Bradburne was assigned to the 9th Gurkha Rifles of the Indian Army and soon found himself posted with them to British Malaya to face the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army. After the fall of Singapore, Bradburne spent a month in the jungle. With another Gurkha officer, he tried to sail a sampan to Sumatra but they were shipwrecked. A second attempt was successful, and Bradburne was rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer and returned to Dehra Dun. For his escape, he was recommended for the Military Cross, although this was never awarded. He then saw active service with Brigadier Orde Wingate's Chindits in Burma.

Indian Army land based branch of the Indian Armed Forces

The Indian Army is the land-based branch and the largest component of Indian Armed Forces. The President of India is the Supreme Commander of the Indian Army, and it is commanded by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), who is a four-star general. Two officers have been conferred with the rank of field marshal, a five-star rank, which is a ceremonial position of great honour. The Indian Army originated from the armies of the East India Company, which eventually became the British Indian Army, and the armies of the princely states, which finally became the national army after independence. The units and regiments of the Indian Army have diverse histories and have participated in a number of battles and campaigns across the world, earning a large number of battle and theatre honours before and after Independence.

British Malaya Former set of states on Malay Peninsula

The term "British Malaya" loosely describes a set of states on the Malay Peninsula and the island of Singapore that were brought under British control between the 18th and the 20th centuries. Unlike the term "British India", which excludes the Indian princely states, British Malaya is often used to refer to the Malay States under indirect British rule as well as the Straits Settlements that were under the sovereignty of the British Crown.

Imperial Japanese Army Official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan, from 1868 to 1945

The Imperial Japanese Army was the official ground-based armed force of the Empire of Japan from 1868 to 1945. It was controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army General Staff Office and the Ministry of the Army, both of which were nominally subordinate to the Emperor of Japan as supreme commander of the army and the navy. Later an Inspectorate General of Aviation became the third agency with oversight of the army. During wartime or national emergencies, the nominal command functions of the emperor would be centralized in an Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ), an ad-hoc body consisting of the chief and vice chief of the Army General Staff, the Minister of the Army, the chief and vice chief of the Naval General Staff, the Inspector General of Aviation, and the Inspector General of Military Training.

After the war

Bradburne had a religious experience in Malaya, and the adventurer became the pilgrim. When he returned to England after the war, he stayed with the Benedictines of Buckfast Abbey, where he became a Roman Catholic in 1947. He wanted to be a Benedictine monk but the Order would not accept him because he had not been in the Church for two years. [6] After a while, he felt a strong urge to travel.

Buckfast Abbey Church in Devon, UK

Buckfast Abbey forms part of an active Benedictine monastery at Buckfast, near Buckfastleigh, Devon, England. Buckfast first became home to an abbey in 1018. The first Benedictine abbey was followed by a Savignac abbey constructed on the site of the current abbey in 1134. The monastery was surrendered for dissolution in 1539, with the monastic buildings stripped and left as ruins, before being finally demolished. The former abbey site was used as a quarry, and later became home to a Gothic mansion house.

So, for the next sixteen years, Bradburne wandered through England, France, Italy, Greece and the Middle East with only a Gladstone bag as his companion. In England, he stayed with the Carthusians for seven months. In Israel, he joined the small Order of Our Lady of Mount Sion , founded for the conversion of the Jews, and went as a Novice to Louvain, Belgium, for a year, where he met Geza Vermes, who would become a famous scholar. [7] After that, he walked to Rome and lived for a year in the organ loft of the small Church in a mountain village, playing the organ. He then tried to live as a hermit on Dartmoor, then went to the Benedictine Prinknash Abbey, before joining the choir of Westminster Cathedral as a Sacristan. Cardinal Godfrey asked him to be the caretaker of his country house, Hare Street House, in Hertfordshire, England. Along the way, in 1956, on Good Friday, he joined the Secular Franciscan Order but he remained a layman. However, he decided he wanted to be buried in the habit of St. Francis of Assisi.

Greece republic in Southeast Europe

Greece, officially the Hellenic Republic, self-identified and historically known as Hellas, is a country located in Southern and Southeast Europe, with a population of approximately 11 million as of 2016. Athens is the nation's capital and largest city, followed by Thessaloniki.

Gladstone bag

A Gladstone bag is a small portmanteau suitcase built over a rigid frame which could separate into two equal sections. Unlike a suitcase, a Gladstone bag is "deeper in proportion to its length." Gladstones are typically made of stiff leather and often belted with lanyards. The bags are named after William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898), the four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Israel country in the Middle East

Israel, officially the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel's economic and technological center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty over Jerusalem has only partial recognition.

Bradburne's wanderlust was almost coming to the end in 1962, when he wrote to a Jesuit friend in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Fr John Dove SJ. He asked, "Is there a cave in Africa where I can pray?" The answer was the invitation to come to Rhodesia and be a missionary helper. After his arrival, Bradburne told a Franciscan priest that he had three wishes: to help the victims of leprosy, to die a martyr, and to be buried in the Franciscan habit. [8] A few years later, the Jesuit missionaries introduced him to the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement near Mutoko, 143 kilometres (89 miles) northwest of Salisbury (now Harare). He arrived in 1969, went on to become its warden, and remained until his death.


By July 1979, the Rhodesian Bush War, then in its 15th and last year, was coming near Mutemwa. Bradburne was urged by his friends to leave but he insisted that he should stay with the lepers. On Sunday, 2 September 1979, the guerrillas came for him. Accusing him of being an informer, they kidnapped him and then shot him. He died instantly, on 5 September at the age of 58. He was buried in a Franciscan habit, according to his wishes, at the Chishawasha Mission Cemetery, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) northeast of Salisbury (now Harare). [9]


Feature articles on John Bradburne and Mutemwa appeared in the print versions of England's Sunday Telegraph on 23 April 1989 and on 28 August 1994 and the online version on 14 September 2009. [10] The last two articles were written by the newspaper's editor, Charles Moore, who had visited Mutemwa.

In July 2001, the Franciscan priest Father Paschal Slevin, OFM, presented a petition to Patrick Fani Chakaipa, Archbishop of Harare, for an inquiry into Bradburne's canonisation. Father Slevin commented: "I have no doubt that John died a martyr in his determination to serve his friends, the lepers. If his martyrdom is accepted, his cause for sainthood could go quite quickly". [11]

A service is held in Bradburne's memory at Mutemwa every year, drawing as much as 25,000 people each time. In 2009 a Mass commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death was held at Westminster Cathedral in London, England. [12]

A poet, he left behind 6,000 poems. [13]

A campaign to have Bradburne beatified and canonised is being led by his niece, Celia Brigstocke. [14] [15]

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  1. (en) Although Bradburne was a S.F.O. when he was alive, members of his order, the Secular Franciscan Order, are now required to use O.F.S. after their names by the 2011 declaration of the order's General Chapter.
  2. "Bradburne, John R, mother's maiden name Hill" in Register of Births for Penrith Registration District, vol. 10b (1921), p. 1089
  3. 1 2 3 Rt. Rev. Patrick O'Donoghue, the Bishop of Lancaster, "A Pilgrimage to Skirwith!", in John Bradburne Memorial Society Newsletter, Winter 2004, p. 2
  4. "Bradburne, Thomas W & Hill, Erica M." in Register of Marriages for Watford Registration District, vol. 3a (1916), p. 1688
  5. John Dove, Strange Vagabond of God: The Story of John Bradburne, p. 5
  6. (en) Joan Carroll Cruz, Saintly Men of Modern Times, p. 164
  7. Vermes, Geza (1993). Providential Accidents: An Autobiography. 1998. pp. 78–79. ISBN   0334027225.
  8. (en) Ibid., p. 166
  9. (en) Ibid., pp. 167–169
  10. (en) Charles Moore, “John Bradburne: a martyr who turned love into the divine", The Daily Telegraph [London, England], Monday, 14 September 2009
  11. (en) Spectator (UK), “Letter from Zimbabwe”,, Friday, 29 June 2001
  12. (en) "London: John Bradburne: Anniversary Mass and Talk”, Independent Catholic News, 5 September 2009,
  13. (en)
  14. Burgess, Kaya (23 April 2018). "Calls for first English saint in 50 years". The Times. Retrieved 30 May 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  15. "Campaign to make John Bradburne first English saint in almost 50 years". The Week UK. 23 April 2018. Retrieved 30 May 2018.