Remembering Joan Bartlett

  • (Updated )

Source: Servite Institute

Joan Bartlett OBE DSG, died on Monday 9 September. Her funeral was celebrated on Thursday 19 September at the Servite church of Our Lady of Dolours, London. Mass was celebrated by Fr Patrick Ryall OSM, Servite Provincial, assisted by a number of Servite Friars. Canon Michael Brockie represented Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor. Her nephew Peter Burrows and his family, also attended, with Councillor Mrs Taylor representing the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the President and many members of the Servite Secular Institute, the Prioress General of the Servite Sisters, the Provincial's representative and other Servite Sisters, Servite Tertiaries, the Chief Executive and colleagues from Servite Housing, representatives of the many charities which Joan helped, and her many friends, co-workers, and parishioners of Our Lady of Dolours.

It was an uplifting and beautiful occasion reflecting the many facets of her life and work, deriving their source from her Servite spirituality.


Joan Bartlett OBE DSG 1911-2002

Joan was a leading Catholic woman of her generation. She was born in London on 1 August 1911. During the war she worked in the European Broadcasting division of the BBC and at night was Commandant of a Red Cross detachment with responsibility for 60 VADs. She was a fervent Anglo-Catholic, but under the guidance of Fr Gerard Corr OSM, to whom she was introduced by Carryll Houslander, she was received into the Church in 1941. She then became a Servite Tertiary.

Joan thought perhaps God wanted her for the consecrated life, but at that time the only option was to enter a convent. However a very clear message came to her through Fr Corr that she must live a vowed life in the world. This was the beginning of the Servite Secular Institute. In 1947 the Motu Proprio 'Provida Mater' was published totally endorsing the Secular Institute way of life.

At that time Joan also opened a residential home for the elderly homeless, having been inspired by hearing the late Violet Markham speak at Caxton Hall about the plight of many elderly people who had been bombed out during the Blitz.

The Servite Order lent Joan 8000, and with this, and contributions from the Air Raid Distress Fund and the American Services Fund, she purchased a property for the home in The Boltons, London, and with help from the Servite Tertiaries and Millicent Buller MBE, Red Cross Commandant, it was cleaned and furnished. It was registered as a Housing Association, then known as Hearth and Home, now Servite Housing, with financial help from Albert Oppenheimer CBE.

Servite House Ealing followed. This was a home for disabled people run by Dr Barbara Brosnan, a member of the Institute. Several Institute members also worked there and at the Boltons. Some of the Servite Sisters worked as wardens in the housing complexes. Joan was a woman of vision, always ahead of her times, and as housing needs changed she went on to any number of imaginative housing projects. Residential homes gave way to sheltered housing schemes in London and other parts of the country such as Birkenhead, Surrey, Bognor Regis and Dundee; there was a project for the single homeless, one for those with Alzheimer's disease, another for students, and a scheme in Battersea where residents can remain in the complex progressing as necessary from sheltered housing to residential care and finally to nursing home care.

Joan was also never afraid to give things up when they had outlasted their purpose, and so as housing needs changed the homes at the Boltons and in Ealing closed. Joan remained involved in Servite Housing until her death, having devoted the years since her retirement as Director to tireless fund-raising both for the Association and for several other charities.

Throughout all these years the Servite Secular Institute continued to grow, being erected as a Secular Institute through the Diocese of Westminster and receiving Aggregation to the Servite Order in May 1964. It continued to grow, and spread to other countries; receiving Pontifical Recognition in March 1979. The Constitutions received final approval in February 1994. Members make vows and live a life of prayer and service in the world. Now there are members in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Canada, USA, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia. There are a growing number of Associate Members and an Institute for men is in formation.

As a Servite (Servant of Mary) Joan walked with Mary. From her she learned to say her own fiat to God's will, to be attentive to the needs of her time, and to stand at the foot of so many crosses of despair, rejection, worry and loneliness.

In her recent book: 'Brushing Eternity', Joan wrote about death:

Intensity, deepening in intensity.
In the cool grey walls, silence.
In the human heart
Silence and adoration.

Behold I have lost my being,
I have brushed eternity.

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