Catalysts of nickel sulfide supported on zeolite Y have been prepared (by impregnation or ion exchange) and characterized by means of thiophene hydrodesulfurization (HDS), sulfur analysis, temperature-programmed sulfiding, 129Xe-NMR, HREM and dynamic oxygen chemisorption. The catalysts show large differences in catalytic behavior dependent on the preparation method (impregnation vs ion exchange) and the pretreatment conditions (method of sulfidation). Especially the ion-exchanged catalysts show a high initial activity, but due to the presence of acid sites deactivation is very strong. The initial activity of these catalysts can be improved significantly by drying prior to sulfidation. In all cases sulfidation results in quantitative formation of nickel sulfide, with Ni3S2 being the main product. Occasionally, also some NiS appears to be present. The major part of the nickel sulfide phase is invariably located on the outside of the zeolite particles. The fraction of nickel sulfide in the zeolite pores depends on the preparation method and the pretreatment conditions. The differences in catalytic activity are ascribed not only to variations in overall nickel sulfide dispersion but also to the acidity of the support, and the presence of very active small nickel sulfide clusters in the pores of the zeolite can have a strong influence on the thiophene HDS activity.