John Prendergast: A Larger-Than-Life Humanitarian With an Undying Mission

This Berwyn-raised human-rights activist has become a poster boy for peace in Africa. But has he made peace with himself?

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The success and celebrity of Berwyn-raised international human-rights activist John Prendergast has come with close calls, powerful personal and political allies, and even a few enemies. For years, one of those enemies was himself.

John Prendergast at work in Africa. See more photos below.John Prendergast was dying inside. Immensely capable and confident on the global scene, the celebrated author and peacemaker was as comfortable with presidents and Hollywood megastars as he was with Sudanese peasants. And yet, he was somehow incapable of having a meaningful, lasting personal relationship.

To tame his demons, it’s taken willpower, counseling and the sort of relentless self-examination that produced this year’s riveting tell-all memoir, Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss, and Redemption. Co-written with Michael Mattocks, his longtime Little Brother, the book details Prendergast’s significant coming-of-age struggles in Berwyn. “Part of the catharsis” for JP (as he’s commonly known) involved sitting down with people from his past. Among those interviewed were his real-life little brother, Luke—a friend and classmate of mine—and former teachers from Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor. In recreating his repressed emotional history, JP exorcised the past. Since then, he’s become more “emotionally available” for his wife, Sia, his mother and others.

Unlikely Brothers also details JP’s recent brushes with death. In Rwanda, he once had a gun pointed in his mouth. He was taken hostage in the Congo, survived mortar fire in Somalia, had a car explode in front of him in Angola, and was imprisoned for three days in Sudan.

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