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Joshua Hicks, seminarian known for his joyful faith

JOSHUA HICKS

Frail of body and strong of soul, Joshua Hicks appeared to already possess many gifts of ministry as a postulant studying to become a priest with the Anglican Church in North America.

“Josh was one of the few people I’ve ever met whose heart was actually bigger than his body,’’ said his close friend Joe Merrill, who was studying with Mr. Hicks at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton. “He could make you happier about your own good news than you were about it before you talked with him. He had that gift to make you ecstatically happy, more so than you ever were before he was in the room.’’

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Severe allergies and asthma brought Mr. Hicks close to death as a child and filled his days as an adult with a series of careful choices about which foods to avoid and even what air to breathe, if pets were near. But he made the weight of such decisions seem light.

“Josh was one of the most joyous people you would ever meet,’’ said a roommate and fellow student, Chase Carlisle. “He just found joy in everything, to the point where you often couldn’t watch movies with him because you couldn’t hear the movie over him laughing. He was absolutely full of joy and love. Things just never got him down.’’

Mr. Hicks, who had been scheduled to preach this past Sunday at Hope Chapel in Ipswich, died April 6, on Good Friday, en route from his Ipswich home to Beverly Hospital. He was 27 and his father said his heart stopped, apparently because of an allergic reaction to something he ate.

“He had a transcendent focus on God as he led worship, which drew us up and out of ourselves, and gave us a sense of being filled with God’s holy spirit,’’ said the Rev. Mario Bergner, rector of Hope Chapel and a mentor to Mr. Hicks in his seminary studies.

A versatile musician, Mr. Hicks often led the music ministry at Hope Chapel. The congregation will join in singing a “Sanctus’’ he composed as part of the Communion liturgy in his funeral service Tuesday.

“He was a great musician with an amazing ear,’’ Carlisle said of Mr. Hicks, who would play and sing at Zumi’s Café, not far from where he lived in Ipswich. “He played everything from old Irish ballads to classics to modern songs. If he knew it, he tried to play it, and he usually did it well.’’

Born in Boston, Mr. Hicks was the second of four siblings and grew up in Dorchester.

Perhaps because illnesses cordoned off parts of ordinary childhood, Mr. Hicks conveyed a maturity and knowledge beyond his years.

“I think ever since Josh was little he had a sense of who God was and who Jesus was,’’ said his mother, Rosetta (Richardson) Hicks of South Euclid, Ohio. “People used to say, ‘Has this kid ever lived before? Has he been on this earth before? He seems older than he really is.’ And that’s when he was 3 years old.’’

Because of his allergies and asthma, he stayed inside more than most children. He taught himself to play guitar and he read extensively. Sensitivities to food prompted him to learn to cook, and he was less territorial than most children about belongings.

“When he was 8, I had to tell him, ‘Josh, you realize you don’t have to share anything,’ ’’ his mother said. “And he looked at me and said, ‘I don’t?’ I said, ‘It’s important to save something special for yourself, or you won’t have anything.’ ’’

He went to school in Brookline, briefly in Newton, and graduated from Quincy High School. Along with guitar, Mr. Hicks took violin lessons and played a little bass and drums.

“He got very involved with the music of the church, and I think that created more of a sense of worship, it became more tangible for him,’’ said his father, Geoffrey.

Mr. Hicks went to Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., on a scholarship from the Posse Foundation, which helps send a group of students to the same school so they can provide a support system for one another.

He majored in religious studies and graduated in 2009 from Hamilton after taking some illness-related time off from his studies. Known at Hamilton as Jicks, he sang with the choir and the Buffers, an a cappella group, and traveled to Europe with college music groups to sing.

“Here was a kid who suffered all his life, and yet if you met him, you would never know it because he never complained,’’ his father said. “He had a genuine faith in God. Because of all his suffering, he found a kind of joy in knowing he wasn’t alone, that God was present in his life. He had the sense that ‘God is with me as I go through this.’ ’’

In addition to his mother and father, Mr. Hicks leaves two sisters, Meredith Eppinger of Schwabisch Hall, Germany, and Iris of South Euclid, Ohio; a brother, Geoffrey of Newton; and his paternal grandparents, John and Minnie (Walston) of Washington, D.C.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Christ the Redeemer Church in Danvers. Burial will be private.

“This was a young man who touched so many lives,’’ his mother said. “I just thank God for having had the opportunity to be his mother.’’

Through his presence and the example he set, Mr. Hicks “made a lot of us more human, myself included,’’ Merrill said. “He put the human in humanity, really. I don’t think he knew how much he was loved, but he was deeply loved.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.
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