College alum discusses his new book on Catholic response to AIDS


Courtesy/Kathryn Williams

Dean Susan Gabert and Dr. Ward Holder asking questions to writer and alumni Michael O’Loughlin on January 31

Tom Canuel, Crier Staff

Michael J. O’Loughlin, Saint Anselm College alum and renowned Catholic journalist, recently spoke to the Saint Anselm College community about his new book, Hidden Mercy: The Catholic Church and the AIDS Crisis. On Monday, January 31, O’Loughlin spoke about how the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s impacted gay Catholics at the time along with the response of Catholic diocese around the country. O’Loughlin spoke about the book in a panel format to hosts Dr. Susan Gabert and Dr. Ward Holder. 

Hidden Mercy uses the perspectives of the LGBT community and Catholics serving that community to show the importance of breaking down walls of hatred and stigma. In the book, O’Loughlin uses both his journalistic skillset and personal experiences as a gay Catholic to help explain the AIDS crisis from an entirely new and insightful point of view. In doing so, Hidden Mercy itself is a work filled with triumphs and difficult loss in a time of great pain and hurt for the LGBT community. O’Loughlin took five years to produce a significant amount of research on the forgotten response to the crisis along with the political, theological, sociological, and anthropological ramifications of the AIDS crisis. O’Loughlin complied the book through diligent research and interviews with many Catholics who worked within the AIDS crisis to bring care to a very vulnerable population, including Father Bill McNichols, a nun named Sister Carol, a gay man named David Pais, and many others.

O’Loughlin’s career in writing began with the topic of LGBT issues. O’Loughlin was nervous beginning Catholic journalism because O’Loughlin, as a gay Catholic, “was a little unsure of my place in the Church and it felt very new to me. This conversation was happening and I didn’t know if people had gone through this before.” It was when a Catholic priest brought up the pastoral response to the AIDS crisis at a dinner five years ago that O’Loughlin decided to learn more and take up the topic.

The context of the AIDS crisis in O’Loughlin’s book is tragic. In 1987, 43% of citizens in the U.S. believed that the AIDS epidemic was a punishment from God. As a result, many people in the LGBT community were cut off from families, their faith community, and many public places. An AIDS diagnosis was almost always fatal. However, some of the examples of stewardship and compassion shown by some Catholics at the time show how people like Sister Carol “simply made herself available to listen to and be present to people who were on the fringe of society.”

One of the stories O’Loughlin focused on was the story of Fr. William McNicols, a children’s book illustrator and Catholic priest. In the 1980s, McNicols was approached by Dignity, an organization supporting the LGBT community, to celebrate an AIDS Mass. Being a gay priest, McNicols saw the innate suffering of the community and felt that a response of compassion was needed above all. McNicols is also known for paintings depicting the crucifix of Christ with legions all over his body and words like “Homosexual” written above, art that was very controversial at the time. The unintended impact of this painting along with others depicting the stations of the cross became the intense impact on individuals diagnosed with HIV and AIDS who felt consoled by the artwork.

Conflict and tension in the Church are also brought out in O’Loughlin’s book, especially among bishops in ecclesiastical roles. The conflict became how to respond to the crisis when Catholic teaching differed with the actions of the gay community in terms of sex. Although several documents were released by bishops in the U.S., the disagreements continued and still continue in 2022. O’Loughlin notes that even in the midst of these conflicts and tensions, young Catholics should be challenged by the book to learn the stories and ask what we are being called to do. O’Loughlin questioned the audience: “What are the challenges in our society today and where are Catholics needed to stand up?” 

Hidden Mercy is available for purchase through Amazon and other book-selling platforms. For more information on O’Loughlin’s book, head to

(From Left) Kathryn Williams, Michael O’Loughlin, Elisa Verdi, Fr. Jerome Day O.S.B., and Tom Canuel pose at the discussion of O’Loughlin’s new book, “Hidden Mercy” (Courtesy/Kathryn Williams)