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Nichol, Gerard Joseph (1921–1990)

by Chris Hanlon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Gerard Joseph Nichol (1921-1990), Catholic priest, was born on 9 October 1921 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, son of Samuel Nichol, accountant, and his wife Maura, née Mandeville. As a small boy, Gerry moved with his family to the Irish Free State, first to Dundalk and then to Dublin. Taught by the Christian Brothers at O’Connell School, Dublin, in 1939 he entered a seminary, Clonliffe College. He also studied arts at University College Dublin (BA, 1944, National University of Ireland). In September 1944 he transferred to St Patrick’s College, Carlow, where he was reported to be a ‘well above average student and an excellent outstanding speaker’. Ordained priest on 5 June 1949, he sailed in October for Australia.

Arriving in Brisbane on 1 December, Nichol was appointed to St Stephen’s Cathedral. He was given oversight of the diocesan Catholic Missions and Immigration Office, then spent two years at the national office in Sydney, helping displaced persons from Europe to settle in Australia. A series of short-term appointments as a priest of the Brisbane archdiocese followed: Brighton (1955), Rosalie (1956-57), St Stephen’s Cathedral (1958, 1964-66), New Farm (1959), Gordon Park (1960), Kenmore (1960-61), Banyo (1961), Herston (1961-62), Burleigh Heads (1963) and Corinda (1964).

In 1963 Nichol was treated for alcoholism at St John of God Hospital, North Richmond, New South Wales. Returning to Brisbane, he credited Fr Thomas Armstrong, then parish priest at Brighton, with helping him to overcome his problem. Embracing teetotalism, he served (1967-80) at South Brisbane, until he established and became founding director (1980-90) of Damascus, a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. He was widely respected for his expertise; he worked closely with the Queensland Police Department and with the Salvation Army, regularly visiting the latter’s half-way house in George Street and Moonyah Men’s Home, Red Hill. A member of the Australian Medical (and Professional) Society on Alcohol and Drug Related Problems and of the United States of America’s National Clergy Conference on Alcoholism, he was involved in projects with the World Health Organization. He kept in constant touch with alcoholics, even when on holiday, and often participated in Friday night meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, where his unerring recall of names was an asset.

Endowed with a whimsical sense of humour and an infectious chuckle, Nichol was a good raconteur: for example, when he first arrived in Brisbane, Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig, wanting to draw attention to his speaking ability, had accidentally said that a new Diogenes (rather than a new Demosthenes) had appeared among them. Telling the story, Nichol used to conclude: ‘The Archbishop, however, was right; for I was to spend much of my time in a [beer] barrel’. He died of a recurrent bowel infection on 6 April 1990 in Brisbane, and was buried in Nudgee cemetery. Shortly after his death Damascus was incorporated as a twenty-bed unit within Holy Spirit Hospital. A colleague, Father Frank Moynihan, observed: ‘He was very much a citizen of Brisbane’, but added, ‘I don’t think he was easy to know’.

Select Bibliography

  • Catholic Leader (Brisbane), 16 June 1974, p 20, 15 Apr 1990, p 5, 22 Apr 1990, p 4, 11 Nov 1990, p 22
  • Sun (Brisbane), 20 Apr 1990, p 18
  • Nichol papers (Catholic Archives, Brisbane).

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Citation details

Chris Hanlon, 'Nichol, Gerard Joseph (1921–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nichol-gerard-joseph-15100/text26299, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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