Although Perth born priest, Father Kevin Bartlett, was not ordained until he was in his mid-fifties, he spent the last 22 years of his life bringing the love of Christ to isolated communities in the highlands of central Taiwan.
The uniqueness of Fr Kevin’s life was outlined by long time friend John Barich during a Memorial Mass in Crawley on March 21.
Speaking to over 50 family and friends at the St Thomas More Chapel, Mr Barich described a man who, despite achieving great academic and sporting success in his earlier life, will be fondly remembered by the indigenous people he served.
This love and respect was reflected by the three Bishops, 65 priests and hundreds of mourners who attended his funeral in Taiwan on March 2.
Born on March 7, 1936 , the eldest of six children, Fr Kevin first discovered his sporting prowess at St Louis Jesuit School in Perth.
He was a member of the sub-junior 4 x 220yard relay team which broke the state record in 1952. He was later to run third in State championship sprints in 1953 and 1954.
Such achievements, however were soon overshadowed by Fr Kevin’s passion for academic pursuits when he began studies in medicine at Adelaide University.
After three years he decided to pursue an alternative career and returned to Perth to study Law at the University of Western Australia.
He followed this degree with another in Arts and then Economics, before working as a Lawyer in Perth.
He then continued his law work in London and during this time applied to work with Australian missionary, Brother Andrew, who was ministering to children living on the streets of Calcutta.
He was unable to fulfil this desire because he could not obtain a visa, but a seed of reaching out to the most vulnerable was already alive within him. He also visited the underground church in China in 1974.
Upon returning to Australia, Fr Kevin studied with the Jesuits in Melbourne and obtained a degree in theology as well as passing a course in Chinese.
He then combined his passions for travel and learning by attending university in the Philippines to study philosophy for a year.
The increasing desire to experience life outside Australia did have its consequences however, as Mr Barich explained during his recollection, with Fr Kevin misplacing his passport on seven occasions.
Authorities resolved this issue by holding on to his travel documents until he required them for further travel.
He did so when he left for Taiwan to work with Bishop Wong in the Diocese of Taichung.
It was here he dedicated his life to God and the Church and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.
In his early ministry Fr Kevin worked in the local hospital and in homes for the Aged.
He also nurtured a relationship with the indigenous people from the highlands of Li Shan where he would travel on weekends to celebrate Mass.
In 2000 he was to become their full time pastor. It was a role he embraced and spent the remaining years of his life serving these isolated and simple communities, even through the ill health of his final years.
During Fr Kevin’s funeral in Taiwan, the Eulogist made reference to the “daily suffering” experienced by this dedicated priest who embraced the lifestyle of the locals.
“I remember that no matter how difficult it was for him to walk, he never missed his Communion with God”, he recalled.
Fr Kevin’s death was attributed to “pneumonia, heart failure and malnutrition”, but despite the hardships he experienced he always accepted the struggles attributed to his challenging call.
“He loved being the priest in the mountain”, his friend recalled, “He always tried to do what Jesus wanted him to do in works and in action”.
The speaker said the last time he saw Fr Kevin, the priest was well aware of his imminent death. He described a face full of joy and peace.
“He wanted everyone to love one another and God, to forgive themselves for whatever sins they had committed”.
During the last week of his life Fr Kevin was visited by his two surviving siblings, Mary Grant and Betty Foster.
Mary was able to be by his bedside during his last night and was privileged to witness the outpouring of respect shown to her brother during the traditional five day grieving process in which his body was displayed in an open casket.
Hundreds of mourners made their way from the highlands to the Cathedral grounds to pay their respects.
In a letter addressed to his relatives, current Bishop of Taichung, Martin Yao – Wen Su, thanked Fr Kevin’s family for their generosity in supporting their brother throughout his Taiwanese ministry.
“He was a man who saw Jesus in others and joyously served him”, the Bishop wrote, “We can all be assured that now the Lord receives him with open arms, into his bosom”.