Thousands of poor people – of all creeds and castes – in three districts of Tamil Nadu, India and hundreds of men and women in U.K. and U.S. consider him a true hero, and a saint.
Brother James Kimpton was born in a presbytery! Poverty forced his parents to take shelter in the parish presbytery in Conway, in Northern Wales, England, where he was born on 23 May 1925. When their fortunes improved, the family shifted to a rented house. Then, in 1937, his father, Charles Kimpton, bought a small house for his family. James had to walk to his school four miles away.
He felt close to his mother, Doris Kimpton, and imbibed her qualities of simplicity, frugality, punctuality and a spirit of generous service. When he was fourteen, he decided to become a De La Salle Brother and made his first profession in 1945 and five years later his final profession. In 1952 he was sent to work in a college at Wattala, Sri Lanka. Apart from teaching art and coaching the students in sports, Brother Kimpton started a printing press and a school for visually challenged children.
In 1964 the Sri Lankan government ordered all foreigners to leave and that turned out to be a blessing for India, especially the southern State of Tamil Nadu. He established a 120-acre ‘Boys’ Town’ near Nagamalai, Madurai, where boys from very poor families learnt farming and other trades, like carpentry and welding. In 1966, hearing the sad news of his mother’s serious illness, he rushed to England and managed to see her in her last moments and say, “Mother, I am here!”
In 1974, he started ‘Boys’ Village’ near Batlagundu and soon started working in surrounding villages. In 1976, his parish priest, a good friend, brought him four orphaned children. But Brother Kimpton told him that, as a matter of policy, the Boys’ Village did not admit girls or boys under seven. But a persistent inner voice kept reminding him of the orphaned children. He brought the children and asked the widow who was working as a gardener to be a mother to the children. When more and more destitute children came, he came up with a unique way of caring for them. He trained ‘mothers’ to care for seven or eight children in a homely, loving atmosphere, as if they were their own children.
A registered society called ‘Reaching the Unreached (RTU)’ was started in 1978. Its office in a village called G. Kallupatti in Theni district of Tamil Nadu became his home. The services RTU offered to the poor in a number of villages were so many and so well-planned that those who came to know about them were awe-struck. Four Children’s Villages, schools, bore-wells, day-care centres for working women, drinking water projects, balwadis, hostels for girl students, nutritious food schemes, low-cost houses, clinics, home for HIV-affected children, mobile tailoring unit, mobile science labs…. His friends who admired his amazing achievements formed RTU-UK and RTU-USA to raise funds for his projects.
Kimpton woke up at 4.30 am to pray. He prayed the Rosary every evening. He deeply believed that ‘where God guides, God provides.’ When lack of rain caused problems, he filled a bottle with water and placed it before a statue of St Joseph and prayed. Soon, there was a heavy downpour! When a ten-year old girl’s condition became critical, after a sudden attack of fits, he stuck her photo on a picture of Mother Teresa and asked everyone to pray. The girl miraculously recovered! One who never believed in religious conversions, Kimpton advised all those who worked for him to remain true to their faith. He joined the festival celebrations in local temples and attended Muslims’ iftar ceremonies. Festivals of all religions were celebrated joyfully in all Children’s Villages.
Apart from his inspiring and practical love for the poor, Brother James was a gifted artist and architect. His drawings of village children are works of art. He designed and constructed hundreds of houses for the poor.
Bro James Kimpton died peacefully on October 5, 2017, at the age of 92. The Englishman who left his mother and motherland to work here continues to live in the grateful hearts of the thousands of poor Indian children and adults he reached out to.
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Fr M A Joe Antony SJ