Wednesday, July 15, 2015

John Bradburne, Franciscan poet

As I was preparing material for a Franciscan related event I stumbled across John Bradburne, ofs, who is being considered for canonization. He was also a poet - and you know I'm always on the lookout for Franciscan poets.

In his case, though, he wrote reportedly more than 6,000 poems. Amazing.

First, some details.

A biography based on information in part from the site of the John Bradburne Memorial Society : 

John Randal Bradburne was born in  Skirwith, Cumbria, England, on June 14, 1921, the son of an Anglican clergyman. He joined the army in 1939, and served in Malaya and Burma, before being invalided home. He underwent a conversion experience in Malaya, and became a Roman Catholic in 1947. He wanted to join the Carthusians, but they turned him down because he had been a Catholic less than two years. Then he got the urge to travel, and for 16 years wandered between England, Italy and the Middle East, reportedly "living out of a Gladstone bag." In 1956, he became a Secular Franciscan.

After all the years of wandering, he wrote to a friend, Father John Dove, in Zimbabwe asking "Is there a cave in Africa where I can pray?" He went there and in 1962 he confided to a Franciscan priest that he had three wishes: to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr, and to be buried in the habit of St Francis.

In Zimbabwe he became a missionary helper, and in 1969 he was appointed warden at the Mutemwa Leprosy Settlement

He battled management over the care and treatment of the residents, and was eventually fired. He then lived in a prefab tin hut, lacking water and sanitation, just outside the leprosy compound. From there he continued to help the lepers as much as he could.

As a Secular Franciscan, he sang daily office of Our Lady, rose at dawn for Matins, and ended his  day with Vespers and Compline.

During the Zimbabwean civil war, his efforts to prevent exploitation of the leprosy patients brought local hostility and suspicion. He refused to leave the place for safety and was abducted and on September 5, 1979, he was shot and killed. Some who know him or of him call him a martyr, which would certainly start him on the path to canonization.

Since his death many unusual events have been reported in relation to his name. His lasting legacy is that Mutemwa is now a place of pilgrimage, and there is a growing movement in support of his cause for sainthood.

So now for the poetry.

I have read very little of it, so I can't attest to its quality yet. But here are a few excerpts from his poems:

An artist on his canvas looks
And masters what he sees,
At writer making brighter books
Gazes each page to please:
So too The Father at the Son's
Image of Him delights, and ones
Through Love Proceeding tween the Twain
Son with The Father back again.

(from "Sitting on a Log:)

I universal am, reverse my name
And backwards barks it "God!", so call me then
By sound less holy, hollow "Hound!", - I men
Befriend from end to end, make world the same
Throughout thereby and homely everywhere
Becomes if I am present, ...

(from "Dog")

Francisca is the stillest spirit here
Indwelling with a body passing frail,
To her I think the cry of chanticleer
Frequently means an archangelic hail!

(from "Francisca (1972)")

More to read and explore.

Pax et bonum

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