When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with people who identified as LGBTQ and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church.
During a time of intense homophobia in both church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s LGBTQ children.
But Father Nugent’s ministry was more than a welcome.
He had the wisdom to know that the real moral problem in the church was not the lives of LGBTQ people, but the ignorance and fear out of which many church leaders and officials operated.
An uncommon prophet, instead of railing against this ignorance and fear, he and Sister Jeannine set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of LGBTQ lives.
Instead of battling the institution, he attempted to build bridges of education and dialogue, helping to enlighten Catholic leaders who were sometimes reluctant to break free from their traditional ways. A loyal son of the Church, he attempted to help the institution live up to its most cherished ideals of human dignity, equality, and respect.
In founding New Ways Ministry with Sister Jeannine, he helped establish an institutional resource for the Catholic Church on LGBTQ issues.
Their dream was for New Ways Ministry to be a resource and advocacy center to which pastoral leaders, LGBTQ Catholics, and family members could turn.
For decades the duo crisscrossed the nation providing support and guidance to those Catholics who were willing to open up to their more inclusive model of church. He bravely withstood the disapproval of many Church leaders, often experiencing the alienation and marginalization of the LGBTQ people that he served.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Father Nugent’s LGBTQ ministry. He educated a generation of pastoral leaders who began to put into practice the inclusive ideals that he taught.
A tireless researcher and writer, he produced a number of important works on pastoral care that helped to shape the movement in Catholicism of gay-friendly parishes. In the mid-1990s, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life as they produced their landmark pastoral document, Always Our Children. A sensitive counselor, he supported scores of gay priests and brothers as they worked at reconciling their spirituality with their sexuality.
When New Ways Ministry informed its supporters of Fr. Nugent’s illness, hundreds of cards and notes expressing gratitude and encouragement flooded his hospice room.
At the end, he knew he was loved and cared for by so, so many on his final journey.
While we at New Ways Ministry are sad that we will no longer experience his sharp mind, his warm heart, and his delightful wit, we are comforted by the fact that his impact will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the Catholic Church’s continued renewal of its welcome and commitment to its LGBTQ members—a renewal that he played such a large role in effecting.
We now have another saint to whom we can pray for LGBTQ equality and justice.