A major celebration is taking place to mark the 102nd birthday of the man who could become the next English saint.

Buckfast Abbey is hosting a special celebration on Saturday June 10 to commemorate the life of WW2 soldier and Franciscan missionary, John Bradburne.

The abbey had a special place in Bradburne’s heart as it was where he converted to Catholicism.

Bradburne’s life was a remarkable spiritual odyssey. After wartime service on the Indian sub-continent he became a perennial pilgrim, never at home in the world, not even in his native England.

The son of an Anglican vicar, he was born at Skirwith in Cumbria on 14 June 1921. He served with the Gurkhas and Chindits in the Second World War and after a conversion experience in Malaya, became a Catholic in 1947.

He was received into the Catholic Church at Buckfast Abbey where he had been staying with the Benedictine community. But John had wanderlust and was soon travelling through Europe and the Middle East.

He finally found his calling in Africa in 1962, becoming a lay Franciscan missionary in Zimbabwe, where he devoted the latter part of his life to helping forgotten leprosy patients at the Mutemwa leper colony. He brought with him just three wishes: to serve leprosy patients, to die a martyr and to be buried in the habit of St Francis.

Bradburne made his home in a pre-fabricated tin hut, with a grass matt for his bed and few possessions, and was often on the verge of starvation. He refused to leave the leprosy settlement during the Zimbabwean civil war and was abducted and shot dead at the age of 58 on 5 September 1979.

Since then the settlement has become a major pilgrimage centre, with thousands gathering for Mass each year on the anniversary of his death.

With his trademark red headband, he was a striking figure who clashed with other leaders in the settlement. His family attribute this to his efforts to prevent the exploitation of leprosy patients and his demand that patients be treated with dignity.

Since his death, several people have claimed miraculous healings after praying to him. This satisfies once condition for sainthood in the Catholic Church. 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 niece Kate Macpherson took over the push for beautification from her late mother, Celia Brigstocke. Mrs Brigstocke had formed the John Bradburne Memorial Trust in 1995 as a charity and a vehicle to push for his sainthood.

In death as in life, he wanted recognition not for his own sake, but for the sake of others.

In 2019, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome formally began the cause of his beautification.

Bradburne is also in the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific poet ever, having written verse throughout his life.

The John Bradburne Memorial Society is giving a rare opportunity to learn about Bradburne’s saintly life and meet the people making his Sainthood happen.

The event, at Buckfast Abbey, is due to take place on Saturday June 10 from 12noon.

It will include a Mass, lunch, talks, music and an exhibition.

Abbot David Charlesworth said: “We are delighted to be able to host this event and we look forward to seeing as many people as possible.”

For tickets visit www.johnbradburne.com, phone 07979 187498 or email [email protected]