By Lauren Seynhaeve
It started with a clarinet in the summer of 1957. Fr. Claude Pomerleau, C.S.C., and Fr. Bob Antonelli, C.S.C., had entered the seminary at the University of Notre Dame, and one day Antonelli heard a clarinet playing in a room above his own.
"I had played clarinet all through high school in the band and orchestra, so I went up to see who it was," Antonelli said. The two quickly became good friends, playing duets together all the time.
Their friendship has lasted since entering the seminary together, and it is a relationship both men value as a special gift from God.
The pair made their final commitments to Holy Cross in August of 1961 and graduated in 1962. The next steps in the process of becoming a priest sent Antonelli and Pomerleau abroad to LeMans University in France.
"It was a real privilege to be sent there, because that's where Fr. Moreau set us up," Antonelli said. "We learned a lot about Holy Cross and French history."
They were sent together because of their strong friendship and because Pomerleau, whose parents are French-Canadian, spoke French even though Antonelli could not speak the language.
After one year in LeMans, where The Congregation of Holy Cross was founded by Blessed Fr. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., the seminary system in France was revised, and Antonelli and Pomerleau were transferred to Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
In Rome, classes were taught in Latin, which Antonelli spoke but Pomerleau did not.
"I knew the Latin and Claude knew the French," Antonelli said. "So between the two of us, we got through."
Both men, by the end of their studies, spoke French, German, Latin and Italian, in addition to English.
"Bob says he struggled with French, but he learned French very quickly - he's a master of languages," Pomerleau said. "I maybe helped him in French, but he helped me enormously in Latin."
As often as possible while abroad, the friends traveled and saw the sights of Europe.
"It was so much fun," Antonelli said. "We had three years to visit all the antiquities (in Rome). Every Thursday we, whether we liked it or not, had to visit these wonderful places of antiquity."
Over their first summer abroad, Antonelli and Pomerleau studied in Germany at the University of Vienna, where they both learned German. For their second summer abroad, the two studied at the University of Lünebourg, also in Germany.
Each trip to Germany was by hitchhiking, and the way back to Rome was by train.
"One couple drove us from just outside of Paris to Munich," Antonelli said. "We ended up corresponding with them for over 20 years."
After studying abroad together for four years, Antonelli and Pomerleau went to separate universities to study for their masters and then doctoral degrees. But correspondence between them kept up, for the most part.
Once, while in Jerusalem, Antonelli was a bit peeved that Pomerleau and he hadn't spoken for two or three months.
As a friendly joke, Antonelli sent Pomerleau a note, which read: "Dear Claude, Go to Hell. Love, Bob."
Shortly thereafter, Antonelli received a pleasant letter from his friend filling him in on recent news.
Although Antonelli and Pomerleau have not been assigned to work at the same places for their whole careers as Holy Cross members, they have managed to keep a strong friendship intact.
"It's been a long, personal friendship in which we've had a lot of great experiences," Pomerleau said. "I thank God that we've managed to come together at this point in our life."
The two have learned new languages together, hitchhiked across Europe together, and ended up at University of Portland together. Now that they are at UP, Pomerleau is a political science professor, and Antonelli is the university archive director.
"His (Pomerleau's) influence on me is extreme, great, and I'm most grateful to him," Antonelli said. "He opened me to vistas that gave me a panoramic view of the world and cultures, and he taught me to have fun."
Although they have different interests in many areas of their life, music brought them together, religion kept them together abroad, and friendship has tied them together for 53 years.
"Friendships like this really give meaning to your life," Pomerleau said. "We have a wonderful, exhilarating friendship."
Antonelli couldn't agree more.
"It's hard to think of life without the influence of someone like Claude," he said. "He's one cultured gentleman, a very holy man ... he's just one super guy."