Fr. John Boles celebrates his Silver Jubilee of ordination

by Fr. John Boles

The Columbans in Britain join Fr. John Boles as he celebrates 25 years since his ordination on 6th July 1996.

Born in Stockport, Greater Manchester in November 1953, John grew up with a joint sense of Catholicism and social justice, and as such from an early age looked for ways to help make the world a better place, though he never had an inkling of being a priest.

Armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography and a Master’s in Urban Design from Hull and Manchester Universities respectively, John began a career in government town planning. He retained a keen interest in developments in the Third World, and was especially fascinated by the involvement of the Catholic Church in campaigns on behalf of the poor in Latin America during the heady days following the Second Vatican Council.

One of his heroes was Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador and was assassinated on 24th March, 1980. This was a turning point for John, and the moment he decided he wanted to go to Latin America as a technical volunteer and join in the process which Romero had died for.

John applied to the British Volunteer Programme, and after several false starts, was sent to another Central American nation in conflict, Nicaragua, in 1983, with the task of helping set up emergency re-location areas for peasant communities displaced by fighting during the Contra War (1983-90).

For the first time John saw committed Catholics, both lay people and clergy, working side by side to overcome poverty and injustice, even at the risk of their lives. He was particularly moved by the role of foreign missionary priests, and began to feel that maybe this was the path along which God was asking him to travel.

After some time, John consulted with one of these priests, an Irishman with whom he had become friendly with and who encouraged him to try his vocation as an ordained missionary. The Columban Society was recommended to him and John decided to return from Nicaragua to attend college at  Maynooth, where the seminary of the Missionary Society of St. Columban in Ireland was based.

John entered the Columbans in 1989. Most of his time studying was spent in Ireland however he spent a year the USA. Whilst here he visited the Columbans in Boston, where he discovered he had the same name as Fr. John Boles, a chaplain at Harvard University. John made an appointment to meet Fr. John, and was surprised to discover they were in fact related and were second cousins.

John was ordained in Our Lady and the Apostles’ Church, an early 19th Century Grade II Listed Roman Catholic church in the Edgeley area of Stockport on 6th July 1996 by his cousin and namesake, Bishop John Boles, who was Auxiliary Bishop of Boston.  It remained the only ordination cousin John ever performed up to his death, for in his home diocese the Arcbishops always carried out the Boston ordinations.

Due to John’s affinity with Latin America, he was appointed to the Columban mission in Lima, Peru shortly after his ordination in 1996 and has remained there for most of the last 25 years.

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.

Earlier this year John was assigned back to the region of Britain and has taken up residency in the Solihull house. John is now a member of the Mission Awareness and Appeals team and will travel to parishes in the diocese of Shrewsbury and Southwark this year to share with others, information about the Columbans and offer relief cover for parish priests. He is also looking forward to assisting James Trewby, Columban JPIC Education Worker and sharing the gospel with youth groups, schools and educators

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Find out more about John Boles' ministry with the society of St. Columban.

Fr. John Boles