Dr. Terence Nichols, a theology professor at St. Thomas for 27 years and the founder and co-director of the university’s Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center, died Saturday of cancer.

Nichols, 73, was diagnosed with cancer in January 2013 but continued to teach this academic year and spent spring break in Turkey during the last week of March, giving lectures and seminars. He was hospitalized earlier this month.

“Terry was one of the most important people in the history of the Theology Department,” said Dr. Bernard Brady, who succeeded Nichols as department chair in 2006. “He had an incredible work ethic and was one of the brightest people I have ever met. He introduced and was the first to teach courses at St. Thomas about Christianity and world religions, theology and the environment, and theology and science, and he was influential in developing bridge courses with other disciplines for our third core course requirement.”

A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, followed by lunch at a campus location to be determined. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday in Kok Funeral Home, 1201 Portland Ave., St. Paul Park, and for the hour before the funeral in the chapel.

“We mourn the loss of a brilliant and wonderful colleague today,” President Julie Sullivan said. “On behalf of the university, I extend our sympathy to Terry’s family, friends and colleagues, and ask that they be kept in our prayers in the days ahead.”

A native of Edina, Nichols started college at Harvard and returned home to the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities in 1967, but he did not immediately pursue an academic career. He worked in construction and owned a commercial roofing and waterproofing firm from 1971 to 1982. He and his wife, Mabel, opened Coat of Many Colors, a Grand Avenue shop that imports and sells Third World clothing, in 1978, and she still runs it today.

In 1982, Nichols decided to return to school to study theology at Marquette University. He received his doctorate in 1988 and joined the theology faculty at St. Thomas that fall. He was promoted to associate professor in 1997 and professor in 2003, and was department chair and a member of the Core Curriculum Task Force from 2002 to 2006. He was on the Faculty Affairs Committee from 1997 to 2001, serving as chair in his last year.

Brady said Nichols came up with the idea of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center in the aftermath of 9/11. The center’s mission is to foster mutual understanding and cooperation through academic dialogue grounded in the Quranic and Christian traditions and with the belief that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

“Terry took seriously what popes had said about the need for interreligious dialogue, particularly with Muslims,” Brady said. “He modeled the center off the dialogue that Catholics have had with Protestants for 50 years. He always would look for common ground, and he brought people together for rich discussions.”

The center opened in 2007, and Nichols served as co-director with Dr. Adil Ozdemir of the Theology Department. The center sponsored speakers, panel discussions, workshops and trips to the Mideast to meet with religious leaders.

“Our dialogue partners in both Turkey and Iran are among the intellectual leaders in their countries,” Nichols said in a fall 2012 CAS Spotlight magazine story. “They are doing in their world what we do in ours: trying to teach others about God and pray that our efforts as Christians and Muslims will bring fruits of peace and understanding.”

In the last 27 months alone, Nichols, Brady and other St. Thomas faculty members made five trips to Turkey, Rome and Iran. Brady recalled how on their latest trip Nichols, despite his cancer, “was really engaged in everything we did. I’ll always remember him in front of 300 Muslims, explaining the Trinity to them. That’s how good he was.”

Nichols was a “multifaceted” teacher and scholar, said his son Peter, an adjunct instructor in philosophy at St. Thomas.

“He was involved in so many ways and on so many levels,” his son said. “He loved to teach, interact with colleagues and facilitate the work of the center. He also had a love of learning and an amazing breadth of interests.”

Nichols was the author of three books – That All May Be One: Hierarchy and Participation in the Church (1997), The Sacred Cosmos: Christian Faith and the Challenge of Naturalism (2003) and Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction (2010). The latter book was the text this semester for his final class, Death and the Afterlife. His essay, “How to Understand Transubstantiation,” was published in the collection The Best Catholic Writing 2007.

He joined with Dr. Michael Naughton of St. Thomas and Dr. William Cavanaugh in 1999 to co-found Casa Guadalupana, a house of hospitality for homeless Latina women and children, on the West Side of St. Paul. Nichols made a down payment on the house and led a crew of workers to renovate it.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include two daughters, Michele Cella and Theresa Nichols, and a grandson, Anthony.


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14 Responses

  1. Ahmed Javed

    I had the good fortune of meeting him once a few months ago and although it was a brief interaction, the values of this man and his work for interfaith harmony are an inspiration for me as a Muslim. I heard him have a very respectful discussion on Prophet Mohammad during an interfaith panel and while respectfully highlighting differences he never offended any one. There is a grace that this man had that was hard to miss. God bless him. Ameen

  2. Darrell J. Fasching, Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida

    I was saddened to get the news that Professor Terrence Nichols had died. I met Terry some fifty years ago when we were both undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. We met at the Newman Center at a very exciting time, just as the meetings of Vatican II were drawing to a close. We would often bump into each other on campus and find ourselves engaged in theological conversation for an hour or more, right there on the street corner. Terry was perhaps the most intense, brilliant and compassionate person I ever met. He had a wonderful, almost ironic and dry sense of humor which he would often interject into our conversations (as if he were thinking aloud and interjecting it as an aside) about the oddity of some scholar’s remarks.
    It is a tribute to the intellectual and spiritual vibrancy of the Newman Center Program in the 1960s that we were both inspired to go on and earn degrees in theology and eventually become not only published theologians but chairs of religion/theology departments — He at St. Thomas and I at the University of South Florida, Tampa. His founding of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center at St. Thomas and his writings on Muslim- Christian dialogue represent the culmination of a life’s work by a man of deep spirituality and a wide open heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Mabel, and his children. And I take comfort in knowing that, in and through Christ, he is still with us and inspires us by his life and work.
    Darrell J. Fasching, Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida, Tampa

  3. Alicia Batten

    We remember Terry very fondly. I taught at St. Thomas 1998-2000 and Terry and Mabel were very kind to us, inviting us to their home for dinner, and offering support and friendship. The Theology department has lost a kind, smart and decent colleague, and many have lost a genuine friend.

  4. David G. Hunter

    I taught in the Theology Department at St. Thomas for 15 years, and it has been 15 years since then. But I remember Terry Nichols vividly. I would echo Dan Fairchild’s comment that Terry was one of the most decent human beings I have ever met. I remember around 1989 or so he helped me rebuild some steps on our house (well, he did the building and I tried to learn something). Then he took the spare lumber and built a sandbox for our son Gregory. He even supplied the sand. He was a dear, dear man.

  5. Cheri Shakiban

    I met Terry 30 years ago, when we both joined St. Thomas. When he heard that I was from Iran and followed the Baha’i Faith, he was very interested in talking with me about my belief. We started a dialog about unity, peace and the oneness of religions. I was a guest speaker in several of his World Religion classes and participated in seminars on science and religion. When people ask me what is like to be a Baha’i and teaching at a Catholic Institution? I have only one answer: I have many friends at St. Thomas and especially some of my very good friends are from the Theology Department. Terry was certainly one of them. I will miss him tremendously.
    I would like to offer this prayer.

    … O Lord, glorify his station, shelter him under the pavilion of Thy supreme mercy, cause hi to enter Thy glorious paradise, and perpetuate his existence in Thine exalted rose garden, that he may ;lung into the sea of light in the world of mysteries…..

  6. Abdulwahid Qalinle

    I am so sorry to hear the sad news of the passing of Dr. Nichols. He was a great advocate of interfaith relations. We will all miss his commitment to building bridges of understanding between Christians and Muslims.

  7. Susan Windley-Daoust

    Heaven gained a great man today. But for the rest of us–I knew Terry when teaching at UST over a decade ago, and enjoyed keeping up with him occasionally since–this is a real blow. I am so very sorry to hear this.

  8. Kelly Johnson

    I lived in Casa Guadalupana 1999-2000, and I helped him with a string of home improvement projects. I remember in particular when, at my request, Terry built a railing for a stairway in the house. It was going beautifully, and then at the last minute, as he planed the rail to fit flush to the wall, his hand slipped and he cut what would be a significant gap in it. He gazed at it in silence for a minute and then said to me, “Devout Muslim craftsmen always build one flaw into their masterworks, because only God can make something perfect.” I am grateful for his life. May angels welcome him to paradise.

  9. Dukassa Lemu

    I am deeply sorry in the death of this great person of integrity and love for the UST community and beyond.

    Let God give courage to his family and friends

    Dukassa Lemu

    MSW graduate student

  10. Steve Laumakis

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. RIP, Terry!


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