It was in August 1963, shortly after my arrival to begin teaching at Xavier, that I met first met Nick, along with John Rulmal, on the Gunner’s Knot. Nick was one of several Yapese students who had boarded at Yap for the voyage to Chuuk. Air flights were few and planes were small in those days. Over the next four or five days as we crept eastward, Nick began exposing me to the new world of Micronesia. It began with demonstrating how monkeymen were carved from wood, and it went on to other things—how spirits of the dead take possession of people, and why island women once had to stay in special huts during their menstrual period. By the end of the trip, we were good friends. Nick was not just a personal mentor on island life, but one of my very first Micronesian friends.
Nick had returned to Xavier to begin sophomore year. Since I happened to be the sophomore class teacher, we had plenty of time to continue my induction into island life. He and John Rulmal even prepared me to join them in a Yapese stick dance at the end of the year.
No one was too surprised when Nick chose to enter the seminary after graduation from Xavier. He began his seminary training at San Jose in the Philippines. Adapting to a different culture? No problem for Nick. He made friends there, as he did everywhere. Nick was just that sort of person—easy to approach and welcoming, with no illusions about himself, and straightforward in his own island way.
Nick was ordained in 1977, just a few months before the man who would be his future bishop, Amando Samo. Soon, Nick was conducting pastoral work in Ulithi and visiting the rest of the Outer Islands, as Fr. Jake Walter, his pastor, had done for years. Fr. Walter would have been proud of his “island boy” successor, but he died just two years prior to Nick’s ordination.
Over the years Nick served not just the Outer Island people, but those in other parts of Yap and Chuuk as well. He conducted pastoral work at times, administrative work at other times. Now and then we might run into one another, but on the whole we were on different tracks. Nick experienced problems over time. (Don’t we all!) But when we met, in good times or not so good, Nick always came across as disarmingly honest, especially on his spiritual ministry and on his own struggles and convictions.
At bottom, Nick had not really changed much from the young high school student I remembered. He remained humorous but earnest. He could laugh and make others laugh, but he took his own calling very seriously. Those who knew him respected him for that, above all. When Nick passed away on June 1, forty-five years after his ordination to the priesthood, I lost a special friend and we all lost a cherished mentor.