His father's death put an end to John's Italian escapade and he was summoned to look after his mother in the charming Devon town of Ottery St Mary. It was there that we met again on my first visit to England to attend an international orientalist congress in Cambridge in 1954. I stayed with him for a couple of days and discovered that he spent most of his time as a hermit: praying, making music and churning out reams of doggerels in a hut at the end of a large garden belonging to a friendly couple. John insisted that I should visit his hermitage and meet his friends, especially the lady. After a long discussion on religion she and I discovered that we shared the same ideas and I was invited to visit Ottery the following year for a holiday. It dawned on me then that what was happening was more than friendship. After two years of struggle I decided to join Pamela in March 1957, leaving behind priesthood and Church. Stateless, jobless and penniless, I launched into a seemingly hopeless adventure. Yet by providential accident, within six months I had embarked on a promising academic career, first at Newcastle and from 1965 at Oxford. By 1962 I had obtained British citizenship.
Poor John was totally devastated and blamed himself for what had happened to me. We remained in occasional contact until 1958 or 1959 by which time he was in London, employed as sacristan at Westminster Cathedral and housekeeper at the archbishop's country residence in Hertfordshire. Then he disappeared and we learned that in 1962 he had left for what was then still Southern Rhodesia to join an old army friend who had become a Jesuit. John looked for a hut or a cave in Africa to pursue his hermit's life as a member of the third order of St Francis, his spiritual hero.
He ended up in charge of the leper colony at Mtemwa. He lovingly cared for these outcasts and was loved by them in return. However, he was soon dismissed by the authorities as he refused to follow their rules: he referred to the lepers by name and not by registration number and insisted that each should receive one loaf of bread per week. Demoted, he returned to his hermitage, but continued to look after his lepers.
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