Brother James Kimpton, also known as Brother Lionel, died in India, aged 92, on 5th October 2017.

Rarely has a single person, through his vision, energy and loving action touched so many lives and ensured a better future for so many children and families. His was a lifetime of service amongst the poorest and most marginalised people in South India. His legacy is a respected and immensely effective organisation, Reaching the Unreached, based in the small village of G.Kallupatti, north-west of Madurai.

Born in north Wales in 1925, James grew up in Chester with his three brothers and a sister. At the age of fourteen, he applied to join the De La Salle Brothers, a Catholic lay teaching order. He made his final vows in 1944 and after a year at St John’s School in Southsea, moved in 1947 to St Peter’s School, in Bournemouth.

There, he inspired lifelong dedication from his pupils and generous and sustained support for his future work. In 1952 he went overseas to Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it then was where, having seen the abject poverty, he set up a school of printing for deaf and blind boys.

In 1964, the Ceylon government expelled foreigners, and Brother James moved to Madurai, in South India, where he managed Boys’ Town, an industrial training school for destitute boys. He himself at that time studied mechanical engineering and childcare. Then, in 1974 he moved to a rural area, north-west of Madurai where he built a Boys’ Village for 100 orphaned and abandoned boys.

One Sunday in 1978 he was asked to care for four very young orphans including girls whose widowed father had starved to death. The way forward became clear – to hire a foster mother – and the organisation named as Reaching the Unreached (RTU) was born.

“One day in February 1978 as I came out of the Parish Church after Mass in Batlagundu, the then Parish Priest, Father Michael, brought me four small children, three girls and one boy who was five years old.  The mother had died of TB and the father died of starvation trying to keep the children alive.  At Boys' Village we did not take girls nor boys younger than seven.  I told this to the Priest and got on my motorbike to go back to Boys' Village.  Half way there a 'voice' told me to go and get those children.  My response was, 'What will I do with them?'.   Again the 'voice' said, 'you will be shown'.  We employed a lady to be the 'mother' of this family and gave her a small house at Boys' Village.  This is how RTU’s whole family-care system started - with one small orphaned family.”

RTU now cares for around 850 disadvantaged children, with the oldest being supported through college and tertiary education. There are now forty foster family groups living in four Children’s Villages, ten hostels for teenagers and four high-performing schools. Finance for the work has come from both secular and religious sources in India and from around the world.

Brother James always looked to respond to every human need that he encountered, with a special focus on the very poor. Reaching the Unreached, which he directed until well into his eighties, is testament to this. 

We provide medical care to thousands of rural villagers, have built more than 9,000 family houses, and drilled 2,500 community bore wells. Brother James’s skills developed alongside their needs – he was a qualified dowser, he designed buildings and he painted. He combined all the skills needed to direct and manage an operation as large as RTU with a compassion that was forever imbued with values that put the beneficiary first.

Brother James set the highest standards of integrity and commitment for himself. He certainly expected this from others. He never wished to be the centre of things or sought any award. His sole aim was for people to be self-sufficient through education, decent housing, accessible water and good healthcare.

Like many who lead, he was not always easy to work with but all respected him and many loved and admired him. In recent years, he has handed over RTU to an entirely Indian team, led by Father Antony Paulsamy OFM Cap, who was himself brought up by Brother James in Boys' Village. All at RTU, both past and present, will grieve the loss of their inspiration and guiding light, and the children will mourn their ‘Thatha-ji’ – their honoured grandfather.

Brother James’s spiritual resource was deeply Christian: he depended on prayer and regular Mass to maintain his living out of the gospel. He has undoubtedly transformed the lives of many through his dedicated and loving Christian service truly following the teaching of Jesus: “Whoever welcomes a little child welcomes me”. In doing this he found his fulfilment.

He is buried in the small cemetery at Anbu Illam, the first Children’s Village he built, among the graves of the children in his care who were too malnourished or too ill with AIDS-related illnesses to survive. Brother James often quoted, “Much of what we do is like planting trees, under whose shade we may never sit but plant we must”.

He leaves a thriving organisation which is known and admired throughout the world. Those at RTU will continue to plant trees wherever they are needed.

Brother James Kimpton FSC
23rd May 1925 – 5th October 2017

Help us to support future generations of orphaned children and destitute families.

Donate to the Tribute Fund for James Kimpton