Newman Center student completes final journey
April 18, 2019
John Patrick Nicholson completed his journey with grace and peace.
Nicholson, 22, died Sept. 9, surrounded by family, after a seven-year battle with brain cancer.
A funeral Mass was held Sept. 15 at St. Peter Church in Omaha, where he was a member.
Despite the challenges of his illness, Nicholson finished high school, homeschooled by his mother and caregiver, Catherine, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) with a full-tuition Regents Scholarship to study information technology innovation.
As a UNO student, he lived for about three semesters at the St. John Paul II Newman Center near campus, where he appreciated the faith-filled atmosphere and the support and friendship of other students, until his condition forced him to move home early this year.
Father Joseph Taphorn, pastor and director of the center, said he just wanted to be a normal college student. “He handled his situation in his own quiet way.”
And Father Taphorn was the last priest to visit. It was the evening before her son died, Catherine said. “He read verses from the Bible promising everlasting life,” she said. “It was very special.”
During an interview with the Catholic Voice in May that centered on his faith in the midst of his illness and his Newman Center connections, Nicholson said, “God knows what’s best for me and for everyone, and wants the good to increase, so if I can help that by either living or dying, that’s OK.”
That spirit of acceptance gave comfort and strength to family and friends as Nicholson reached his final days, said Father John Broheimer, St. Peter pastor.
“Even in the midst of this incredible suffering, he was enveloped by God’s grace – he was calm as can be,” Father Broheimer said.
“He so much reminded me of the saints who died young,” he said. “Even in his last days, he was absolutely trusting and at peace.”
Through several surgeries, countless doctor visits, many rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, several brushes with death, a period of remission and, finally, a terminal diagnosis, Nicholson and his family remained hopeful.
In May, he and family members traveled to Lourdes, France, where in 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous and revealed a spring of healing water that has imparted thousands of miraculous cures over the years.
“In Lourdes, John Patrick went to confession, visited the grotto, attended Mass, and bathed in the waters there,” Catherine said. “It was a very special time.”
Although a miracle cure did not come, Nicholson made the most of his last months, she said.
He spent time with relatives in Europe, joined his older brother, William, for a video game convention in Los Angeles and visited with other family members in Austin. He attended a College World Series game in Omaha, where he sat behind home plate and received a game ball.
“He was very busy and had a very happy time,” Catherine said.
Nicholson maintained a positive outlook, even joking occasionally, she said. “And he was very concerned that everyone have Christmas gifts from him this year, and gave us instructions on what to buy.”
“We were very blessed in that he was conscious and aware till the very end,” Catherine said.