The outpouring of grief by colleagues, friends and even strangers who were shocked by the death in Iraq of John P. Pryor, the passionate leader of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's trauma team, has been "beyond anything we had expected," his brother said yesterday.

The funeral for Pryor, 42, was originally planned for a community church in Moorestown. Because of intense interest, the funeral now is likely to take place Monday at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul after a viewing Saturday and Sunday near Pryor's home in New Jersey, said his brother, Richard Pryor, 41.

John's "humility was unbelievable, because he had no understanding of what his death would mean," said his brother, speaking from the Moorestown home where immediate family gathered.

"He had put together some things before he left - contingencies in case the worst happened. He had picked out a funeral home and church, and he had no imagination that this would be anything other than a run-of-the-mill funeral," Richard Pryor said. "It's become a little out of hand; it's beyond anything we had expected, but we are doing the best we can."

Pryor was a major in the Army Reserve, working as a combat surgeon at a frontline hospital in Mosul when he was felled by shrapnel from a mortar shell on Christmas Day. He deployed Dec. 6. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq.

For the moment, said Richard Pryor, funeral arrangements are contingent because his brother's body has not been released from the military morgue at Dover Air Force Base. He said the family has reason to believe that will happen tomorrow. Arrangements call for a wake at Moorestown Memorial Home, 334 Chester Ave., Moorestown, followed by a Mass at the cathedral on Logan Circle. The cathedral, which is the seat of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, has hosted the funerals of Philadelphia's most prominent citizens, including many police officers slain in the line of duty.

The family has created a Web page - www.drjohnpryor.com - that can be consulted for final funeral details.

Pryor said that help with organizing the funeral has come from his brother's colleagues at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where Pryor was known as a tireless trauma surgeon and for drawing parallels between battlefield deaths and urban homicides.

Penn president Amy Guttman described Pryor's death as "an enormous loss" for his family, patients, colleagues "and fellow soldiers, whose lives he was seeking to protect and save while serving our country."

In addition to his younger brother, Pryor is survived by his parents; his wife, pediatrician Carmela Calvo; daughter Danielle, 10; and sons Francis, 8, and John Jr., 4.

As the family works on the funeral details, it also is struggling to learn more about the precise circumstances of Pryor's death.

A terse Dec. 26 release from the Department of Defense said Pryor died Dec. 25 "in Mosul of wounds suffered when a mortar round impacted near his living quarters."

He was assigned to the 1st Medical Detachment, Forward Surgical Team, Fort Totten, N.Y. According to the release, the incident is under investigation.

A voicemail message seeking more information and left with the 77th Regional Readiness Command public affairs office in New York yesterday was not immediately returned.

"Nothing's been really clarified. I've been getting conflicting stories about his death," said Richard Pryor. "There was a blog somewhere, and one of the respondents said he was 20 feet from Maj. Pryor at the time, and just gave a completely different story. He obviously was blogging from Iraq, near Mosul. I responded with my e-mail, and asked him to contact me. So far he hasn't."

That posting, electronically signed "Someonetc," appears to be that of a St. Louis doctor whose office said yesterday that he was "deployed" overseas.

Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com

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