Music department fund to memorialize Fr. Claude Pomerleau

Campus memorial Mass set for Sept. 5

By Fiona O'Brien | September 4, 2019 10:17am
Fr. Claude with the greenery on the side of the chapel, one of his favorite places on campus.
Media Credit: Elizabeth Lyons-Best / The Beacon

Fr. Claude Pomerleau, a beloved political science professor and community member will be memorialized through additions to the music department, funded by his family. The fund, in Pomerleau’s name, was given to the music department to support student musicians at UP. 

Pomerleau died July 21 of cancer at the age of 80, and will also be remembered during a memorial mass this Thursday at UP.  

Pomerleau not only loved music but also was an avid clarinet player. But when he got older, it became harder for him to play due to arthritis. This led him to start voice lessons with Nicole Hanig, a professor and the head of the voice department at UP. Through these lessons, the two became good friends. In the time before Pomerleau flew to hospice care at the University of Notre Dame, Hanig said her final goodbyes to him.

Fr. Pomerleau poses for a photo in a classroom. Photo courtesy of Fr. Bob Antonelli

The money will be used for the new program called Opera on the Bluff, formerly known as Mocks Crest Opera Productions, a semi-professional Opera company that puts on a production every summer, according to Hanig. Auditions for new musicians and artists from around the country will take place in February for a role in the Opera on The Bluff. 

The money will also sponsor a resident student to move to Portland every summer to be a part of Opera on The Bluff, called the “Father Claude Pomerleau Resident Artist,” according to Hanig. 

Pomerleau left all of his instruments and sheet music with Hanig to distribute to musicians who will continue to play them at UP. 

“What he wanted from me, is to make sure that his clarinets got into the hands of players who are going to stay with music for the rest of their lives,” Hanig said. 

Along with the fund, a Remembrance Mass on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 5 p.m., will honor Pomerleau in the Chapel of Christ the Teacher. Hanig and a group of UP music students will perform a version of Ave Maria in French — one of Pomerleau’s first languages — written by Maureen Briare, the associate director for Liturgical music at UP. Hanig will sing while one of the students will play Pomerleau’s bass clarinet. 

Pomerleau’s sister, Marcelle, is married to Sen. Patrick Leahy, a U.S. Senator since 1975 from Vermont who will also attend the memorial Mass on Thursday. In previous interviews with Pomerleau, before he died, he noted his close relationship with Leahy.

Fr. Pomerleau stands alongside his brother-in-law, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy. Photo courtesy of Fr. Bob Antonelli

Before the Mass, Leahy will talk with students about his experiences in the Senate and the current issues that he is working on in the Brian Doyle Auditorium in Dundon-Berchtold Hall on Thursday at 10 a.m.  

Over the summer, there was a funeral and burial for Pomerleau on July 26 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. Fr. Patrick Hannon, an English professor from UP, presided over the Mass. Other members of the UP community were at the Mass including Fr. John Donato and Fr. Charlie McCoy. Hannon spoke on Pomerleau’s constant positivity and joy. 

“We can still hear the reedy, rich, and mellow tones of his clarinet,” Hannon said at the funeral. “We can still hear him arguing a point — and even if we disagree with him, we still want to agree with him because he’s smiling and happy and passionate. Who is not, in the end, always persuaded by joy? And our brother Claude was a joyful man.”

Pomerleau was known for radiating happiness. His friends and family around him said that he fought his illness hard even in the last few hours he was alive.

Fr. Donato, the vice president of Student Affairs, had a very close relationship with Pomerleau and had the privilege of seeing Pomerleau in hospice on one of his final days.

“I said, ‘I have to go back to Portland, I don’t know that I’ll see you again. And he said ‘I don’t know why you would say that. I just wish we could go out for a nice dinner together,’” Donato recalled.  

Fiona O'Brien is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at