By Christopher Pramuk  

“William Hart McNichols has often lived in two worlds — priest and artist, tender of flocks and solitary soul, openly gay man and defender of the Catholic Church.” 

Thus begins a Denver Post article by John Wenzel celebrating the opening of “Light in All Darkness: Images and Icons by William Hart McNichols,” at the McNichols Civic Center building in downtown Denver through January 6. 

The son of Colorado governor Stephen McNichols (1957-1963) and nephew of Denver mayor William McNichols (1968-1983), Fr. Bill’s childhood was steeped in politics and religion. He endured years of bullying in grade school that continued through high school; art and humor became a way to mask his suffering.  

A graduate of Regis Jesuit High School, he later returned to Regis as a Jesuit scholastic and established the high school’s first art program. Among the Jesuits at Regis, he’d found a home in the atmosphere of Ignatian spirituality. 

By some miracle of grace, I have come to know Fr. Bill as both friend and mentor. I find his icons to be interactive. Fr. Bill has put it this way: “You gaze on the icon, but it gazes on you too. We need to gaze on truly conversational, truly loving images, images that will return our love.” 

Though Fr. Bill is no longer a Jesuit, he remains a priest in service to the people of Albuquerque, N.M. He continues to discern the movements of the Spirit in a world “both damaged and abundant,” a presence of God in all things that find expression in his breathtaking icons. There is a “childlike awe in being called to create along with the Holy Spirit,” he says.  

For the viewer, contemplating religious art “can renew our intimacy with God and the childlike stance Jesus insists upon in the Gospels.” I’d say it this way: In Fr. Bill’s iconography, mysticism meets prophecy in a quietly explosive way. 

I urge you to visit the “Light in All Darkness” exhibit, if you can. Among all the images, I’m certain you’ll encounter at least one that speaks to your heart. Fr. Bill’s sacred images and icons also may be viewed here. 

Chris Pramuk, Ph.D., is the chair of Ignatian Thought and Imagination and an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies. 

Published Oct. 14, 2018