John Prior obituary

Other lives: Catholic priest and theologian who spent most of his life working on the Indonesian island of Flores

My brother John Prior, who has died aged 75, trained as a Roman Catholic priest in the UK before spending most of his life on the island of Flores in Indonesia, working within parishes, then as an academic theologian, and always as a man passionate about social justice.

John was born in Ipswich, one of the six children of Vincent Prior, a printing compositor, and Kathleen (nee Mansford), a hairdresser. He went to the Roman Catholic St Joseph’s College school in Ipswich and by his early teens had already decided that the priesthood should be his vocation, after one Sunday at mass he heard a talk by a visiting priest from the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).

Once he left school John joined the SVD, studying with them in Ireland and London before being ordained in 1972. The SVD being a missionary order, he was sent in 1973 to Indonesia, which has a large Roman Catholic population, and worked there, on Flores, as assistant priest in the parish of St Thomas More in Maumere, and as priest in the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wolofeo.

In 1984 John came back to the UK to become a doctoral student at Birmingham University, obtaining his PhD in intercultural theology in 1987. Returning to Flores, he then became a lecturer on the postgraduate programme at the island’s St Paul’s Institute of Philosophy and a researcher at the Candraditya Research Centre in Maumere.

The years after 1987 saw John become a well-respected academic in his fields of interest, which included missiology, the study of religious missions and their methods and purposes. He wrote widely on such topics, mostly in Indonesian and under the name John Mansford Prior, and was on the editorial boards of several theological journals.

In parallel with his academic career John never lost touch with the primary purpose of his mission, which was to serve the poorest and most marginalised people in society. He devoted much of his time to helping a group of HIV positive people in Maumere and to prisoners in the local jail. He was still living in Flores at his death.

Simple, upright and courageous, he was a caring son, brother, uncle and great-uncle, with an excellent sense of humour and a habit of giving way to infectious giggling.

He is survived by three of his siblings, Tony, Anselm and me, four nephews and nieces, and five great-nephews and nieces.

Mary Prior

The GuardianTramp

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