Fr. John Boles left England nearly forty years ago. He served as an overseas volunteer adviser (in his original profession as a Town Planner) in Nicaragua, Central America from 1983 until 1988. Subsequently, he joined the Missionary Society of St. Columban and did his seminary training in Ireland, the USA, Bolivia and Peru between 1989 and 1995. Fr. John was ordained in his home parish of Stockport, Greater Manchester in 1996 and almost immediately sent back to South America as a priest, ministering in Peru until 2006, Chile from 2007 to 2013 and Peru once again from 2014. Fr. John has therefore spent most of his working life outside Britain, and is very much looking forward to serving as a priest here in his home country.
John’s ministerial experience in South America has been twofold. Mostly he has served as a parish priest in new, very poor ‘shanty town’ areas on the edges of the two capital cities, Lima, the capitol od Peru which lies on the country’s arid Pacific coast, and Santaiago, Chile. Besides this, John also spent time as Formator, in the Columban South American Seminary (located first in Lima, then in Santiago, Chile), and has had the pleasure of accompanying young Peruvians and Chileans who were training to become Columban missionary priests.
When asked about his achievements as a Columban Missionary, John explains, “My time as a Columban priest in general, and as one in South America in particular, has been the happiest and most rewarding period of my life. I really did feel as though I was doing what Our Lord wanted me to be doing. I revelled in the idea of being a ‘front-line missionary’, working with, and serving, the poorest of peoples.” He adds, “What I might have achieved in that time, I leave to God and posterity to judge. I try and keep to the old missionary adage of doing your best to sow seeds, and leaving others to reap any resulting rewards.”
Fr. John has certainly sowed many seeds over the course of his assignments overseas. He has been instrumental in developing parishes from scratch in poor shanty towns in both Lima and in Chile. Once the parishes became self-sufficient, John and his team would hand them over to the local bishop and move on to the new frontier to repeat the process. John also served as chaplain at the Manuel Duato school for children and young adults with complex special needs in Peru’s capital, Lima. These students come from very poor and disadvantaged families living in poverty-stricken areas of the city and have various disabilities. The school is also involved in advocacy work at municipal and national levels to ensure that the right to a decent education for children with special needs is upheld and followed through.
Being a missionary priest overseas has fulfilled John’s, life-long love of adventure and following the ‘less trodden paths’, however he hated the corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, street crime and poor hygiene that is common, especially in Peru. The outskirts of Lima are notoriously polluted, and John has been constantly plagued by nose, throat, ears, eyes, stomach and skin infections – things he will certainly not miss now he has returned to the comfort of the Columban residence in Solihull!
John will now become a member of the Mission Awareness and Appeals team. He is very much looking forward to supporting the team and helping out as a priest and a Columban back in Britain. What exactly lies in wait for him isn’t entirely clear, given all the uncertainties produced by the Covid pandemic. The original idea was that he would travel around the region to share his missionary story with parishes and groups besides making regular visits to Peru and some other overseas missions, where he could advise on how funds might best be best spent.
Whether any of this will now be feasible in the new ‘post-pandemic normality’ is still unsure, but John remains relaxed. “I will leave it in God’s hands!” he explains, “Time will tell… mystery is all part of the adventure!”