Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

With confidence in the promise of the Resurrection, but also with hearts heavy with sorrow, New Ways Ministry reports the passing into eternal life of our co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS.  Fr. Nugent’s three-month battle with cancer ended on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, at 2:10 pm, Central Time, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Present at his side at the time of his death were New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, and Brother John Hauenstein, SDS, a member of his religious congregation, the Salvatorians.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, reflected on the impact of Father Nugent’s life:

“When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people 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 lesbian and gay children.

“But his 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 lesbian and gay 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 lesbian and gay 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 lesbian and gay issues.  Their dream was for New Ways Ministry to be a resource and advocacy center to which pastoral leaders, lesbian and gay 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 lesbian and gay people that he served.

“It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Father Nugent’s lesbian and gay 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 lesbian and gay members–a renewal that he played such a large role in effecting.  We now have another saint to whom we can pray for LGBT equality and justice.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update its readers with information about funeral arrangements for Fr. Nugent, as well as any further reflection on Father Nugent’s life and ministry.


33 thoughts on “Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

  1. Michael Marinelli January 2, 2014 / 1:29 am

    I am very very sad to hear of his passing. Fr Nugent was a wonderful person and a beacon of hope to gays and catholics I remember fondly the pigrimages taken with him and Sister Jeanne. heaven has another saint

  2. Tim MacGeorge January 2, 2014 / 6:59 am

    I, too, am so very sad to learn of this news. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Fr. Nugent, I remember that when I first learned of NWM in the mid 80s, it was never without reference to him and Sr. Jeannine — a dynamic duo who seemed to be building that bridge that I was looking for. As a young priest who knew I was gay long before my ordination, the work of NWM helped confirm for me a Truth that I almost instinctively knew. I knew from my lived experience that I am gay not by choice, but by God’s grace. Thankfully, I came to this recognition before the institutional Church’s pendulum of orthodoxy swung so far to the right under the pontificate of John Paul II and the doctrinal leadership of Joseph Ratzinger. Thank God that Fr. Nugent (and Sr. Jeannine) had the faith and courage to begin their ministry when they did so that they could plant seeds of understanding and build that bridge that continues to help LGBT Catholics know that they are loved by God just as they are.

  3. Tim MacGeorge January 2, 2014 / 7:06 am

    Reblogged this on Image and Likeness and commented:
    Fr. Nugent co-founded New Ways Ministry, which for decades has helped to build bridges of trust and understanding between LGBT Catholics and those elements of the Church that fail to see that, ultimately, there can be no conflict between being a faithful follower of Jesus and being faithful to who we know ourselves to be as created in God’s image and likeness. Requiescat in pace.

  4. Fr. Dick Young January 2, 2014 / 7:28 am

    Bob was a good man, and I am honored to have known him. He had difficult choices to make regarding how to move forward with a sense of justice, while still remaining in good standing with the institution. He knew how to play the game. Bob, along with Jeannine, did a remarkable amount of good for LGBT persons. We are all better off because their ministry. Thanks be to God.

    • Fr. Jim Dallen January 3, 2014 / 11:11 am

      Amen, Dick. Good to see your name after so many years!

    • John Hilton January 3, 2014 / 1:00 pm

      Fr. Young,

      I covered Fr. Nugent for the past three years for the York Daily Record. I am looking for folks who new of his work and his life to comment on his legacy. Are you available to comment for my tribute story running tomorrow?

      John Hilton
      religion reporter
      York Daily Record/Sunday News
      York, Pa.

  5. Erma Durkin January 2, 2014 / 9:39 am

    A remarkable man and priest; known by few in comparison to the multitude of persons who have received comfort, direction and peace of soul because of his ministry. May his ministry and humanity continue to inspire those who recognize the need to eliminate the injustice done to others because of ignorance or hate.

  6. Barry Blackburn January 2, 2014 / 9:42 am

    What a terrible loss! The Toronto lgbtq community, especially DIGNITY remembers well the excellent workshops Father Nugent and Sister Jeannine G. gave to the Toronto area in the 1980s, Their Ministry was BLESSED and we were Blessed by our participation in their/our words and prayers of hope for change in our Church. In a real way they have prepared the way for this change–possibly now with Pope Francis! Barry Blackburn, Tim Ryan and Bill MacLean

  7. Mary E Hunt January 2, 2014 / 9:42 am

    Bob leaves a large legacy– a priest with integrity, a friend who was faithful, a risk-taker who handled what came with dignity. May his memory guide us and his love sustain us.

  8. Bob & Gerrie Burns January 2, 2014 / 9:54 am

    Rest in peace Bob

  9. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM January 2, 2014 / 11:21 am

    We have been blessed with the pastoral ministry of Fr. Nugent. His was a life well lived and he multiplied the treasures entrusted to him. May God hold him close.

    • Lee Ann January 3, 2014 / 12:38 am

      He suffered from Lung cancer

  10. cultureboy January 2, 2014 / 3:35 pm

    I pay tribute and acknowledge the prophetic life and work of Fr Bob Nugent Bob’s work of advocacy for Gay and Lesbian Catholics was groundbreaking. His partnership with Jeannine Gramick witnessed to a bold and courageous challenge to the culture of homophobia in Catholicism.Greetings and sympathy from Australia

  11. Vern Smith January 2, 2014 / 5:45 pm

    Thank you, Bob Nugent, for a job well done. You were there for us when it was not cool to be pro-lgbt. May you rest in peace in God’s arms.

  12. Edward M. Kennedy January 2, 2014 / 7:09 pm

    Bob, Enjoy the eternal embrace of the Lord. You gave us courage, self-respect and lasting hope as we struggled to face the reality of our own sexuality and be faithful priests ministering to others! The angels are welcoming you today as you welcomed us! Intercede for Pope Francis that he might continue his faithful witness. Our Church is a beacon of hope reaching out to the “homeless”. Our Church is our “home” . Your life and ministry have made that as clear “as the dewfall” God bless you and give you Eternal Rest !
    Ed Kennedy, retired Priest

  13. James Martin SJ January 2, 2014 / 8:55 pm

    I always greatly admired Father Nugent’s pioneering work with gay and lesbian Catholics; along with Sister Jeannine he helped many thousands of people feel more welcome in their church. But I admired just as much his fidelity to his vow of obedience. In a complicated time, Father Nugent navigated a course between justice and fidelity with enormous grace and trust in God. All Catholics–not just gays and lesbians–owe him a debt of gratitude.

    May he rest in peace.

    • Barry Blackburn January 3, 2014 / 11:07 am

      Well said and spoken from the heart!

  14. Joy Kelleher January 2, 2014 / 10:07 pm

    Fr. Nugent was a dear family friend. My mom and dad, Joan and Don Lohr knew him for over 45 years. He was present for so many of our family milestones and was a beacon of inspiration for us all. RIP.

    • John Hilton January 3, 2014 / 1:02 pm


      I covered Fr. Nugent for the past three years for the York Daily Record. I am looking for folks who new of his work and his life to comment on his legacy. Are you available to comment for my tribute story running tomorrow?

      John Hilton
      religion reporter
      York Daily Record/Sunday News
      York, Pa.

      • Joy Kelleher January 3, 2014 / 1:28 pm

        Happy to help. Let me know what I can do.

  15. Gerard Budzynski January 5, 2014 / 2:43 pm

    I had the honor of working with Fr. Bob in the RCIA and Religious Education Program at St. John the Baptist church in New Freedom for several years. Fr. Bob was a faithful son of the Catholic Church who loved its liturgy. He was a good and faithful servant of the Church who saw the face of Christ in all of God’s children and courageoulsy reached out to those of God’s children who are often the most misunderstood, maligned and marginalized. May God’s angels meet you and welcome you into Paradise. Requiescat in pace. Jerry Budzynski

  16. Paul Leddy, Washington, DC January 7, 2014 / 9:26 am

    Easily over 40 years ago, as an undergrad at University of Maryland, I walked over to New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier from my apartment in Hyattsville to see if they were really real. Back then, there were no resources for Gay Catholics, no place to go for answers. New Ways office was nothing more than a small house, typical of the neighborhood. On the front porch was an old sofa piled with file folders and printouts. I just wanted to see with my own eyes that they existed. I was too afraid/ashamed to venture any further for fear that I would be outed just by my being there. So I left without talking to anyone. I did that a couple of times, just for reassurance that they hadn’t faded away.
    I had no sense that they were heroes or extraordinary. I thought this is how they were to go about their ministry; I thought this was the Church’s pastoral response. It was safe for me; I wouldn’t have to out myself, yet they were ministering to me. So, from a safe distance, I followed them in their books and publications. I’d read and destroy the evidence. I’d get what I could in the library or bookstores and hide in the stacks to read what they wrote. …Because that’s all there was.
    I’m sad to hear of Fr. Nugent’s passing. He and Sister Gramick – two brave souls, gutsy when no one else had the guts …especially me. For that, I thank them each very much.

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