Oil Dedicated to John Bradburne
John Bradburne was an English lay member of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a poet, and warden of the Mutemwa leper colony at Mutoko, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Killed by nationalist guerrillas, he is a candidate for canonization. On 15 July 2019, the Holy See gave the nihil obstat for the start of the cause of canonization by giving Bradburne the title of ‘Servant of God’.
Bradburne was educated at Gresham’s, an independent school in Norfolk, from 1934 to 1939, after 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 Officers’ 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 sent for training at an Officer Cadet Training Unit at Bulford Camp.
In December 1940 Bradburne commissioned in the Indian Army. He assigned to the 9th Gurkha Rifles of the Indian Army and soon posted with them to British Malaya to face the invasion of the Imperial Japanese Army. After the fall of Singapore in February 1942, Bradburne spent a month in the jungle. With another Gurkha officer, he tried to sail a sampan to Sumatra but they shipwrecked. A second attempt successful, and Bradburne rescued by a Royal Navy destroyer and returned to Dehra Dun in India. He then saw active service with Orde Wingate’s Chindits in Burma.
Bradburne had a religious experience in Malaya, and his faith became the dominant impulse in his life. 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. After a while, he felt a strong urge to travel.
For the next sixteen years, Bradburne wandered through England, France, Italy, Greece and the Middle East with only a Gladstone bag. In England, he stayed with the Carthusians for seven months. In Israel, he joined the small Order of Our Lady of Mount Sion, and went as a novice to Leuven, Belgium, for a year, where he met Géza Vermes who became a noted scholar. 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 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.
On Good Friday 1956, Bradburne joined the Secular Franciscan Order but remained a layman.
Bradburne’s wanderlust was coming to an end in 1962. When he wrote to a Jesuit friend in Rhodesia, 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. This is where in 1969, Bradburne found Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement near Mutoko, 143 kilometres (89 miles) northeast of Salisbury. It a cut-off community of leprosy patients abandoned by others. Here Bradburne stayed with these patients until his murder in 1979. He cared for them as their warden but fell out with the Leprosy Association and expelled from the colony. He stayed in a tin hut. Just outside the perimeter fence. For the last six years of his life but continued to minister to the lepers.
After his arrival to Africa, Bradburne told a Franciscan priest that he had three wishes. To help the victims of leprosy, to die a martyr, and to buried in the Franciscan habit.