Chapel funeral honors Pomerleau
Remembering and honoring the force that was centenarian Burlington businessman and philanthropist Antonio Pomerleau during his late-morning funeral Mass in the campus Chapel on February 13, a Saint Michael’s College community that has benefited profoundly from Mr. Pomerleau’s generosity while educating many of his family members joined leaders of Vermont politics, business and education in paying respects.
“Tony” Pomerleau (P’69, P’80, H’94, G’04), who died last Thursday at the age of 100, served three terms on the College’s Board of Trustees, received an honorary degree in 1994, and saw two of his children and a granddaughter graduate from the College. His generous philanthropy over many decades enriched student experiences, alumni connections and the Saint Michael’s community as a whole. Another connection is that his niece is Marcelle Pomerleau Leahy, wife of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy ’61, who both attended Tuesday’s funeral.
On a cold Tuesday morning with temperatures in the teens, Pomerleau family members accompanied their patriarch’s casket from the hearse parked in the lot of Hoehl Welcome Center alongside the chapel to the steps and into the main entrance of the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel — Vermont’s largest Catholic church — which was nearly filled well before the 11 a.m. start time. A large reception directly followed in the Ross Sports Center with remarks from Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, Jane Sanders and Marcelle Leahy.
A Burlington police Honor Guard was on the Chapel steps after the Mass and escorted the casket to the hearse –Tony Pomerleau was a longtime police commissioner, and the Burlington headquarters bears his name. The Funeral Mass was celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne; homilist was Tony Pomerleau’s nephew, Holy Cross Fr. Claude Pomerleau, CSC; reading the Gospel was Msgr. John McDermott, pastor of Tony Pomerleau’s Burlington home parish Christ the King. About 15 Edmundites, young and old, also were vested and participated in the liturgy from the altar after joining the opening procession. Saint Michael’s Music Minister Jerome Monachino led the music with help from vocalist Maria Rinaldi ’00, and organist was Fine Arts professor Susan Summerfield.
Among prominent figures attending the Mass along with Sen. and Mrs. Leahy, Rep. Welch, Gov. Scott, Mrs. Sanders and her daughter and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger were Saint Michael’s President John J. Neuhauser and Presidents Emeritus Paul Reiss and Marc vanderHeyden and their wives, Rosemary and Dana, respectively. Burlington Police were well-represented by Chief Brandon Del Pozo and former Chiefs Mike Schirling and Kevin Scully, along with the Police Honor Guard.
Prior to the reception Tuesday, Saint Michael’s President John J. Neuhauser said that Tony Pomerleau “was an astute businessman who knew how to take risks, use bluff and bluster and tally the ledger. And he worked incredibly hard at this for twice as long as most of us. Yet beneath this posture was a heart that knew how to take care of people from employees to veterans to those less fortunate to the social institutions of his beloved state. We will miss the day-to-day interactions but each of us will remember his stories and we will be grateful that he made life better for many in these green mountains.”
Tony Pomerleau’s son Ernie Pomerleau ’69 gave a personal, spirited and elegant eulogy after the opening procession, but prior to the formal liturgy. He called his father “bigger than life,” a man whose core was family – especially his wife of 71 years, Rita, and the large family group that was with him last week when he died. “Today we celebrate a life well-lived,” Ernie said, noting his father was definitely not a wallflower and “preferred not to use the King’s English – no filters” — and always remembered his Newport roots, never forgetting where he came from. The changes he saw in 100 years were mind-boggling, Ernie said – from riding a horse-drawn sled to church as a kid to using his modern “Cellephones” constantly. “He has one with him him now – no kidding! …and if you call, he’ll probably answer!” he joked, to much laughter.
The younger Pomerleau recounted how his father was very sick in Tony’s youth and recovered through what seemed by all accounts to be a healing miracle through the intervention of St. Anne following his mother taking him to a shrine in Quebec; a prayer to Saint Anne was on the funeral program. Growing up in Newport, Tony was like a “Vermont Tom Sawyer,” getting other kids to work for him and taking a profit, and he continued to see opportunities and make the most of them for the rest of his life. Often his father said that “everything has an expiration date except him” — which appears to be true given how his legacy and spirit live on, Ernie said. “We love you dad – you will be in this family and this community forever. Thank you for being here.”
The homily from Tony Pomerleau’s nephew-priest Claude was personal and intimate, since that was how their relationship was, said Fr. Pomerleau, noting that Tony was present at his birth in Newport while Claude’s own salesman father was away on the road. The priest spoke of their families’ long intertwining lives and memories, of his uncle’s extraordinary attention to and compassion for young and old, of their long conversations at breakfasts about the church and all the modern changes that Tony sometimes lamented or outright rejected — though eventually he seemed reconciled, with such loving support from family and his pastor Msgr. McDermott.
At the reception, Gov. Scott called Pomerleau “a quintessential Vermonter” who embodied core values and set a positive example for every one of us. Jane Sanders recounted working for the Burlington Police in 1980, meeting Tony as a commissioner and coming to admire him; and how Tony built a relationship and friendship with her husband, Bernie, then newly elected mayor, in 1981, leading indirectly to such traditions as the holiday Christmas party for low-income residents and many worthwhile civic projects. Rep. Welch exhorted those present to put Newport’s coming celebration of 100 years on their calendars to attend with “Tony Pomerleau as grand marshal, one way or another.” Marcelle Leahy told an entertaining story of witnessing what she speculated might have been “the only time Tony was speechless” when she and another niece put him on the spot to say who was a favorite. Her stories were of an uncle who was lovable and unforgettable.
Chatting informally later after those podium remarks, former Saint Michael’s Presidents Reiss and vanderHeyden recalled their early meetings with Pomerleau that led to the building of the Pomerleau Alumni Center on campus. Said vanderHeyden, “He loved the College and was very proud his kids had gone here – Ernie was a fine example of that. Tony felt that he had been among the first trustees to teach the Edmundites a little bit more of a business approach to running a college and claimed he was one of their first instructors that way, and I think that, to a degree, that may well be the case. He loved the place and he loved the people in it, so we all have a lot to be grateful for with him.”
Talking informally near the end of the reception about his family and Saint Michael’s College, Ernie Pomerleau said, “We’re so interconnected.” He spoke of being deeply grateful for indispensable help in “getting this funeral Mass and reception together” thanks to the President’s Office, Edmundite Fr. Brian Cummings of Campus Ministry, and Scott Quimby from campus Sodexho. “They were kind, considerate and professional, and the whole thing was unbelievable, with Fr. Brian working with Msgr. McDermott at Christ the King on the liturgy … so my hats are off to them – my heartfelt thanks. It was magical.”
He noted that the Ross Center where the reception took place was built decades ago with his father serving as the liaison with the board for that major project, “and I was the liaison with the Dion Center when I was on the board — so there’s just a lot of connections.”
“He lived through a lot of presidents here and it’s been a continuum — so to have him have a celebration here on campus of his funeral Mass, and this reception piece – it couldn’t be better,” Ernie Pomerleau said.