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Remembering Brother Gerard Nichols, SSPX, by Brother Marcel

June 01, 2017
Brother Gerard Francis Nichols (1957 - 2017).

One month ago, Br. Gerard Nichols, a SSPX veteran Brother passed away in Ireland after fighting a violent brain cancer. In this article, Br. Marcel Poverello of the Society of Saint Pius X, paints a portrait of shared years of Brotherhood.

I lived with Brother Gerard for about 17 years at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary. Despite his size, for he was very short, he was a giant in simplicity. He possessed no talents of note though his voice was decent and he did like to sing. When he sang his little body vibrated with the strains of the hymn which anyone in the same choir stall could feel passing through the woodwork.

Hard At Work in the Kitchen

He was assigned, as brother, the work of ironing in the laundry, though he also worked in the kitchen. At one period he worked both meals on a single day and also every evening meal. He was cooking for some 80 people.  His meals were simple. His “mac n’ cheese” has never been equaled nor his toasted cheese sandwiches which I loved in particular. Before entering the novitiate, he once worked for a burger place called The Executive which is probably where he developed this ability. He was particularly known for serving meatloaf, bacon, and onioned liver (everybody’s “favorite”) and his infamous “grease-tubes” (Italian sausages). His meals were announced by the presence of ketchup and mustard bottles on the tables: what we called the “torpedoes.”

The Trials of Gardening

Brother Gerard also liked to work in the garden and was inspired by a previous brother, Frere Jean –Marie Lefebvre, a Canadian, and the last surviving member of his congregation of The Holy Cross (though no relation to Archbishop Lefebvre). Frere Jean had a perfect garden which he religiously weeded daily. When Brother Gerard took over so did the weeds. In vain did he try control the problem with a weed whacker.  He never succeeded in rooting out this menace nor did his efforts yield the same results as his predecessor. But he always tried. He was often teased about his efforts but nothing would persuade him otherwise. Not even the rabbits that would pull his veggies down below the ground.

Once I remember him showing me, with such childlike pride, the latest yield from his garden: a handful of gnarled and arthritic carrots which I hoped we would not see later on our plates.  It is still a mystery as to how the sticks he used once to support his tomato plants sprouted leaves.

He was often late for things, but he always showed up. He was always there. It was a curious form of punctuality. A rosary, the cheap, plastic kind, was always in his hands. He loved First Saturdays and had the good fortune to be buried on that day. Brother Gerard was very devoted to Our Lady and sang her hymns with great enthusiasm. He also had the habit of stopping at the station of the Crucifixion after locking the doors (another of his chores). Frequent were his little stops in the chapel to pay a visit.

Br. Gerard by Br. Marcel.

A Man of Joy

I looked at Brother Gerard during the wake and thought how unlike the living Brother Gerard he appeared. He was famously recognizable for the big glasses, almost too big for his head, and the wide, toothy smile. Here he lay without glasses and without smile. His disposition was of one offering every little thing during the day in a religious spirit. His constant cheerfulness and resignation were admirable. Everybody who knew Brother Gerard remembers his often repeated phrase of “Deo Gratias.”

That probably sums him up. No doubt when he realized that his time was at hand he repeated that. When we were together I called him my “little-big brother,” with reference to his size and age simultaneously, and now I confess that it is I who  look up to him and ask his intercession. Nevertheless he was really quite ordinary, not at all eccentric.

The best place for a brother to be is where God puts him, where he is sent, where obedience places him. Brother Gerard adapted to where he was stationed and faithfully served the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) according to his abilities. I took him to the airport when he was being transferred to Ireland and I feared the worst: that he would have difficulty in adapting to a new environment and so on. It was a sad occasion for me indeed. Yet several years later I saw him at the priestly ordinations and he was fine and was fitting in well with the “little people,” his people.

In his final illness, others will remember that he had a kidney removed years previously, he would have, no doubt about it, offered it all for sinners and for those in most need. He would surely have responded like Fr. Henri La Praz in the spirit of victim. In fact a prominent ex-member of the SSPX wrote to Brother Gerard and asked for his prayers.

What is important is not what he achieved but the intention that fueled his efforts. It was not visible results for us to applaud but a simple, childlike disposition, the attitude that Our Lord describes in the Gospels that marked the real Brother Gerard. This is what we all need in order to enter the Kingdom. This is what a religious, above all, must have. His glory was in this childlike simplicity. Brother Gerard is gone from our midst but not from our memory. May he rest in Peace.