Donald Nicholl (23 July 1923–3 May 1997) was a British historian and theologian. A speaker of medieval Welsh, Irish and Russian, he published books on medieval and modern history, religion and a biography of Thurstan. He has been regarded as "one of the most influential of modern Christian thinkers".
Nicholl was born on 23 July 1923 into a poor working-class community in Halifax, West Yorkshire. He was the son of a brass finisher, William Nicholl. Academically able, he won a Brackenbury scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied political philosophy under A D Lindsay and was tutored in medieval history by Maurice Powicke.
He left Oxford after a year, to serve in the British Army, in World War II. He served in the ranks of the infantry, then in intelligence, largely in Asia and the subcontinent. Upon his return to Oxford in 1946, he converted to Catholicism as a result of his wartime experiences.
From January 1948 until 1953, Nicholl taught history at the University of Edinburgh. In 1953 he moved to the University College of North Staffordshire (later Keele University), where he taught for over twenty years, being promoted to a professorship in 1972. In 1974 he left the UK to become professor of religious studies and history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where, for three years he chaired the religious studies department. He returned to England with his wife in 1980, but was appointed rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies at Jerusalem from 1981 to 1985. He retired to Betley, near Keele in Staffordshire, becoming senior research fellow at the Multi-Faith Centre, Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, and continuing to write.
In addition to his academic pursuits Donald Nicholl taught church history to the Poor Clares in Aptos, California and to novices in the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa's order, in London. More informally he conducted a class in the "Penny University" at the Caffe Pergolesi in Santa Cruz, reading through Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.
Alongside his wife Dorothy Nicholl, he was active in the co-workers of Mother Teresa. A regular contributor to The Tablet, a compassionate intelligence shone through his articles, providing a source of relief in conservative times and of compassionate impartiality in times of conflict. Perhaps his skill in listening respectfully to wildly variant points of view, acknowledging authentic distinctives unobscured by mollifying generalisations, was most widely known in his work at Tantur, but it was certainly experienced by his students as well.
Nicholl died of cancer, at his home in Betley, on 3 May 1997. He is buried in Keele churchyard.
- Recent Thought in Focus (1952)
- Thurstan (1964), biography of Archbishop Thurstan of York
- Holiness (Seabury, 1981; Pauline Books & Media, 2005)
- Triumphs of the Spirit in Russia (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1997)
- The Beatitude of Truth: Reflections of a Lifetime (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1997) – published posthumously
- The Testing of Hearts (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1998) – published posthumously
- Hastings, Adrian. "Nicholl, Donald (1923–1997)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Accessed 16 Feb 2007.
- Kolbert, John Murray (2000). Keele - the first fifty years; a portrait of the University 1950-2000. Keele, Staffordshire: Melandrium Books. p. 265. ISBN 1-85856-238-4.