Brothers in Christ

Jan. 15-21, 2004
Brothers in Christ
By Father Daniel Mulhauser, SJ/ SUN contributing writer
Three brothers serve 150+ years in priesthood

The Nicholsons are surely among those families who have been so very generous to the church. Anna and Louis Nicholson of Syracuse had 11 children: three of the boys became Catholic priests. Two, John and William, became Jesuits; James became a priest of the Syracuse Diocese. Father John Nicholson died on Nov. 28 at Murray-Weigel Hall, the infirmary of the New York Province located on the Fordhan University campus. The funeral was on Dec. 1. Interment was at the Jesuit Cemetery at the Martyr’s Shrine at Auriesville. Father John was born in Syracuse on Aug. 14, 1914. He attended the Cathedral Academy and then Holy Cross College for two years, entering the Jesuit novitiate, Saint Andrew-on-Hudson, in 1935. He studied philosophy and theology in the Phillippines. However, his studies were interrupted by the war when both he and his Jesuit brother, Bill, were interned at the Japanese prison camp at Los Banos from 1944 to 1945. After the war, John returned to the States, completed his studies and was ordained to the priesthood in Sept. 1946. Then began a 38-year career as a missionary to the Caroline Islands. He served for five years in Ponape, but his principal work was in Chuuk, where he served as pastor on the islands of Toloas (1959-1969) and Fefen (1969-1987). In the years Father John served in Chuuk, he found time for the extraordinary task of translating the entire Old Testament into the Chuukese language.

But on the practical, social service side, his work also included devising and overseeing a system for constructing houses using “tilt-up” walls. A reinforced wall would be poured on the ground, and then tilted into place. This became the standard practice for house construction in the islands of the region. Father John traveled the area and taught others the process. Father was also known for his kindness to the cats of the islands, who always had the run of his house. In his later years on Fefen he had trouble walking and so he used a motorcycle to navigate the paths of the island, allowing him travel the paths of the island celebrating Mass at the different villages, a helmet perched somehow on top of his head rather than on it. Although he was a “tough” missionary in the old style, he was also unfailingly gracious, a warm human being and good friend to his parishioners and fellow Jesuits. Father John returned to the States in 1987 and lived in the LeMoyne Jesuit Community until 1992, when he took up residence at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University.

Father John’s younger brother, Bill, was also a Jesuit priest, entering the novitiate the same day as his brother, in 1935. He also became a missionary to the Philippines. After his ordination in 1946, he studied economics both in the States and the Philippines, and taught at the Ateneo de Manila and served as dean of the Jesuit College in Cagayan. Father Bill died in the Philippines in 1993 and is buried at Cagayan. An older brother, James, was a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse. He was ordained in 1934 and served as pastor of many parishes, including Utica, Clinton, and North Syracuse. His last pastorate was at Marcellus, where he served from 1972 – 1986, the year he retired. He had a life-long interest in basketball: playing varsity ball in high school and then coaching parish teams over many years. His parishioners have many great and fond memories of him. Father James died on Jan. 15, 1993.

The Nicholson priests’ nephew, Hon. Robert Nicholson, is retiring this month as a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court. Their grand-nephew, Dennis, serves as Director of Admissions at Le Moyne College.

Editor’s note: Father Mulhauser is the Alumni Chaplain at Le Moyne College. He served with Father John Nicholson during his time on the islands and returned to Le Moyne in January last year.

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