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Former Norfolk schoolboy could become Zimbabwe's first Catholic saint

John Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Peter. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial Trust

John Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Peter. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial Trust

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John Bradburne was the son of Cawston Anglican vicar Thomas Bradburne, and as a youth spent time there and at Gresham's School in Holt, where he was very happy.

John Bradburne could become a saint. Picture: Gresham's School/ John Bradburne Memorial TrustJohn Bradburne could become a saint. Picture: Gresham's School/ John Bradburne Memorial Trust

He was murdered on September 5, 1979 in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

Since his death, he has become a revered figure in the country's Catholic community.

Thousands travel to Mutemwa, north-east Zimbabwe, on annual pilgrimages to pray, and there is a growing movement within the church in support of his beatification.

Several people have claimed miraculous healings after praying to him, which satisfies one condition for sainthood in the Catholic Church.

John Bradburne was a former pupil at Greshams School in Holt. Picture: SUPPLIED BY GRESHAM'SJohn Bradburne was a former pupil at Greshams School in Holt. Picture: SUPPLIED BY GRESHAM'S

It is also said that at his funeral, held in Harare, a speck of unexplained blood appeared below his coffin.

However, it took years for the Vatican to agree to his family's request to consider him for sainthood.

His great-niece Kate Macpherson took over the push for beatification from her late mother, Celia Brigstocke. Mrs Brigstocke had formed the John Bradburne Memorial Society in 1995, as a charity and as a vehicle to push for his sainthood.

The formal process to canonise Mr Bradburne involves presenting arguments for and against.

John Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Mai Jeromia. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial TrustJohn Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Mai Jeromia. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial Trust

If another miracle is recorded in his name then he is likely to be declared a saint.

Earlier this month, to coincide with commemorations of the anniversary of his death, thousands of curious church members flocked to the mass, on September 5.

And a ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of his death was held at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, September 21.

Ms Macpherson said: "There were over 500 attendees in the cathedral, with many Zimbabweans who had flown over especially for the event.

John Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Peter. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial TrustJohn Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Peter. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial Trust

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"Mass was celebrated by Father Daniel Humphreys with the homily given by Monsignor Robert Mercer who knew John.

"After mass, people were directed to the cathedral hall, where talks were given by Anne Lander, a close friend of John's in Zimbabwe, and Professor David Crystal, who is an expert on John's enormous poetry collection.

"The John Bradburne Memorial Society had curated an exhibition of John's relics for people to see for the first time.

John Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Mai Jeromia. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial TrustJohn Bradburne at the Mutemwa leper colony with Mai Jeromia. Pictures: John Bradburne Memorial Trust

In this exhibition, John's Franciscan habit was on display and the beloved typewriter he had written so many of the thousands of poems on whilst in Africa.

"There was a vast gathering of the Bradburne family who came to the event from all over the world, some of whom hadn't met for years."

She added: "We need examples like John to look up to and be a positive role model. He was not a perfect human, which makes him all the more relatable for people today, and as John wrote in a letter to his mother, 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if a wreckage like me was made a saint?'

Mr Bradburne, who was born in Skirwith, Cumbria, had arrived in Rhodesia in 1962 at the age of 41. He had converted to Catholicism after serving in the British army in Malaya and Burma, where he was injured.

John Bradburne could become a saint. Picture: Gresham's School/ John Bradburne Memorial TrustJohn Bradburne could become a saint. Picture: Gresham's School/ John Bradburne Memorial Trust

He joined the Mutemwa leper colony in 1969 as a warden, making his home in a pre-fabricated tin hut.

The Bradburne family had moved to Norfolk in 1929 when John's father took over the parish of Tilney All Saints. They then moved to Cawston in 1933 and he attended Gresham's school.

Douglas Robb, Gresham's headmaster, said: "It's lovely that a man who has dedicated his life to the service of others is being recognised by the Catholic Church."

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