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1 of 9 | Posted by: Chuck Roach

“I recall Father Nolan well from his time at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church on S. Pattie, Wichita, KS in the 1950s. Father Nolan came often to our...Read More »
2 of 9 | Posted by: Chuck Roach - Rose Hill, KS

“Joe Nolan has been a close friend of our family ever since July of 1984 when we moved in next door to him at 8 Wesley Street in Newton two days...Read More »
3 of 9 | Posted by: Jane and Mark Ostrowsky - Newton, MA

“Fr Nolan played an enormous role in my time at BC. I took his theology class as a freshman in 1994 and he made such an impact on my thinking. He...Read More »
4 of 9 | Posted by: Salena Brody - Allen, TX

“I became an alter boy when Fr. Nolan was at St. Joseph Parish in Baxter Springs KS. My brothers also served with Fr, Nolan and became very close to...Read More »
5 of 9 | Posted by: Dan Burke - Hotchkiss, CO

Father Joe in his Navy uniform
6 of 9 | Posted by: Paulette Nolan

Father Joe with his Mother Lillian
7 of 9 | Posted by: Paulette Nolan

8 of 9 | Posted by: PATRICIA DOWNEY - ANDOVER, MA

“My husband Harold and I met Fr. Nolan in Wichita, KS in1956 at St. Margaret Mary. Through the years he visited our family in Ft. Worth, making new...Read More »
9 of 9 | Posted by: Ruth Elsken - Friend

Navy Emblem

Father Joseph T. Nolan, a beloved priest and long-time teacher at Boston College, died on Monday, July 25, 2016, at his home in Newton, Massachusetts. Father Nolan was a classic example of what the Catholic Church calls "a delayed vocation," having come to the priesthood after three years with the FBI, two years as an officer in the Navy, and pausing to pick up a graduate degree before finally heading to the seminary. At his golden jubilee (the 50th anniversary of his entering the priesthood) in 2003, he faced the question of why he had shifted vocations. He said, "It was easier to get confessions."
Many came to know Father Nolan during the three decades he preached at St. Ignatius Church on the Boston College campus. Around the country, many more knew him from seminars and courses he gave on liturgy and preaching, and from the newsletter he edited, "Good News."

Father Nolan was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts, son of James L. and Lillian C. Nolan. He was educated in Winthrop public schools, and graduated from Boston College in 1942, where he won the coveted Fulton Medal for debating and was proud to have his name inscribed on a wall in the college's iconic tower building, Gasson Hall.

Upon graduating from BC, Father Nolan went to work for the FBI doing fingerprint analysis, and was eventually assigned as a special agent to Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1944, the FBI "invited" many of its personnel to join the armed forces, and Father Nolan became an ensign in the Naval Reserve, sworn in at the FBI office. After boot camp, he was sent to communications school at Harvard, then overseas duty in Recife, Brazil, and Manila in the Philippines. In his autobiography, Liturgical Journeys, he tells movingly of a chance meeting with his brother, James, a radio operator, on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His other brother, John, was in the 8th Air Force in the European theatre.

After the war, Father Nolan returned to the FBI and was assigned to the New York office. He said later that New York enabled him to get in touch again with Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker, and to date one of the workers there. Thinking vaguely of the priesthood, he left the FBI to get a graduate degree in history at Boston College. Afterward, he spent four years at a seminary at the Benedictine monastery Conception Abbey, in Missouri. He said he chose that program because of his interest in the liturgy, or Catholic worship. After entering the priesthood, Father Nolan chose to be a pastor in the diocese of Wichita, Kansas, because he wanted to put liturgical reform into practice. He was particularly active in urging the adoption of the vernacular in the liturgy, and he became well known as a speaker and writer.

"I got away with a lot in advance," Nolan said, "turning around the altar, using lectors to read the scriptures, bringing up the bread and wine, moving the wake service to the church, involving the laity. The bishop was permissive, or at least silent, and much later I learned why from Fr. Bill Leonard. He said that the bishop told him of a letter he received praising the funerals at my parish; most letters he received about pastors were complaints, he added, and this one convinced him I was on the right track. He even made it possible for me to get into the Council as a visitor in 1965."

After 14 years of parish ministry, Father Nolan received permission to study for a degree in theology at Harvard, and thereafter to engage in teaching and writing full-time. In 1973, he was invited to teach a course in liturgy at Boston College, and continued as a part-time teacher in theology until his retirement in 2001.

At the same time, he was urged to begin a monthly homily service which he named "Good News." The newsletter was designed to help clergy preach from the lectionary with the readings prescribed for each Sunday by the liturgical reform. This publication became a major occupation for Father Nolan, crowding his BC office and his schedule for 31 years. "I shifted to an emphasis on preaching," Father Nolan said, "because in general it was done badly. I did about half the writing of homily models, and gathered an ecumenical group of writers from the US and the UK to assist me. They became great friends and colleagues."

Father Nolan's own homilies from his many years at St. Ignatius filled three volumes, and two more collections — one on Eternal Life, the other on Belief in God — were the result of his visits to preach at Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville, Massachusetts.
Father Nolan was beloved by his parishoners, his fellow clergy, his tennis partners, and particularly, his students, some of whom worked for him as research assistants and became part of his extended family. He delighted in presiding at their marriages, baptizing their children, and supporting them when they had to send their parents to God. Father Nolan turned aside all questions about his age by declaring that he had decided to stop counting at age 63. He was 95 when he died.

He is survived by his niece, Joyce Ricciardelli of Lynnfield; his nephew Hilary F. Nolan and his wife Paulette B. Nolan of Falmouth; and his nephew Bruce Nolan, formerly of Newton. He also had countless friends and admirers who will miss him greatly.

A Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated on Thursday, July 28, 2016, at 10:30am at St. Ignatius of Loyola, 28 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA, followed by a reception at the church.