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He was born at Wallsend, and ordained in to the priesthood 1954. He achieved a double first in English at Cambridge University in 1956, and then was appointed to the first of many teaching positions, where his subjects included English and theology / religious education, in whihc he was a pioneer in the days after Vatican II.
He was National Adviser for Religious Education in England and Wales between and 1973 and 1980, and also became a member of the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL). He was also appointed as an as associate professor of the Catholic University of America in Washington as his international influence grew.
In 1981, he retired from teaching, returned to England and was appointed as a parish priest.
Nichols was widely respected as a poet and author, and published many books and articles.
His hymns include:
- In Bread We Bring You Lord (for which he also wrote the melody)
- Lord, our God, O Lord our Father
- Our Father, we have Wandered
Other works include 'Stations of Affliction' a poetic meditation on the Way of the Cross which was set to music by Irish composer Declan Townsend, and three volumes of poetry:
- Begotten in Silence (1978)
- Canticum Novum (1991)
- Sequences (2000)
- Decryptions - published after his death.
His Religious Education writing included:
- Refracting the Light: Learning the Languages of Faith (1997)
- Pathways to God: The Spiritual Classics (2001).
- Cornerstones (1973), a reflection on the principles of religious education,
He also contributed to writing the moral section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992.
He died at Newcastle upon Tyne after a long illness, and is buried at Minsteracres Monastery, Northumberland.