'The Boy Who Found Gold," a new feature-length documentary film by Christopher Summa about Roman Catholic priest and artist William Hart McNichols -- fondly known by Taoseños as "Father Bill" -- will be screened for one night only at the Taos Community Auditorium Friday (June 2) at 7:30 p.m. A question-and-answer session with McNichols and Summa will follow the film screening.
Heralded by Time magazine as "among the most famous creators of Christian iconic images in the world," McNichols' message as a priest, artist and man speaks to the most powerful element of the human spirit: mercy, press materials for the film state.
Although produced independently, the film was made with the written permission of Archbishop Emeritus Michael Sheehan and Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester. The film has been praised by best-selling author James Martin as "a heartfelt look at one of the great Christian artists of our age."
McNichols was born into the most powerful political family in the history of Colorado and yet, in his priesthood, he has led a life that has found him crossing paths with presidents and popes, peace activists and martyrs. As a young Catholic priest from 1983-1990, he was immersed in a life-altering journey working as a chaplain at St. Vincent's AIDS hospice in New York City. It was during this time that McNichols became an early pioneer for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church. He was featured on "ABC World News" asking for the church to have greater mercy and compassion for HIV/AIDS patients. His voice from 30 years ago echoes the modern-day words of Pope Francis, who said: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
In 1990, McNichols was called into the desert of New Mexico, where he began a six-year apprenticeship to master the ancient art of painting icons. As an iconographer, he uncovers unsung heroes of all faiths who fought for the rights of people and were killed for it. They span the centuries from the very first martyr, St. Stephen, who was stoned to death, to one of the first casualties of the 9/11 attacks, Father Mychal Judge, who died after being hit by a falling body.
For the past 25 years, McNichols has received nonstop commissions for his work, yet has never signed his name to a single icon. All of his works hang anonymously in churches and universities around the world, including the Vatican Museum.
McNichols arrived in Taos in 1999 to create the icon of "Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata" for San Francisco de Asís Church and remained working at parishes in the Taos area until 2013. He now resides in Albuquerque, but speaks of Taos as a very spiritual place filled with wonderful people.
Filmmaker Summa has known McNichols since 1998.
"I was first drawn to Father McNichols' work because it's emotionally supercharged; icons are sacred images and I could see and feel the individuals and their stories," Summa said in a statement. "I felt that this is what a true artist is supposed to do: allow people to bear witness. His subjects include individuals from all different faiths - Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and Jewish - but the common thread is they all followed their truth no matter what the consequence."
Tickets are $12, $10 for Taos Center for the Arts members and $5 for youth 17 and under. They may be purchased in advance by calling Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or online at tcataos.showare.com/TheBoywhoFoundGoldFatherBillMovie (additional fees apply to online purchases).