Jesuit Father Normand A. Pepin passed away on Jan. 4, 2014, at Campion Center in Weston, Mass. He was born Feb. 23, 1933 and entered the Society of Jesus on July 30, 1950.
Fr. Pepin was born in Norwood, Mass., on Feb. 26, 1933. His father Joseph Amedée Pepin was from Valcourt, Quebec, and his mother Laura Hélêne Southiere was from Granby, Quebec. The family lived in Walpole, Mass. Fr. Pepin had three older sisters. His sister, Gloria, died in 1924 before he was born. He had two older sisters Cécile Marie and Gabrielle.
Walpole was known for its excellent public school system. Fr. Pepin attended Stone Elementary School and Plympton Junior High School. He was an avid hockey player. He was an altar boy at Blessed Sacrament Church. His musical interests survived early discouragement. He asked the pastor, Monsignor Bennet O’Brien, if he could join the choir. The pastor told him he could not do both, so he remained an altar boy. At the encouragement of Monsignor O’Brien, he and another boy from Walpole enrolled at Boston College High School.
In 1946 Fr. Pepin started at BC High. His homeroom teacher for his first two years was the legendary Fr. Frank Gilday, SJ, who was his favorite teacher at BC High. He and Normand’s mother encouraged Normand to study the organ with Mr. Rudolph Pepin, no relation, but the organist at the “Mission Church,” the Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in the Roxbury section of Boston. The language of instruction was English, Norman remembered, but as a regent at BC High he again studied under Mr. Pepin and this time the language of instruction was French. His interests were not only musical. During his sophomore year, one day, he promised God that if the Red Sox beat the Yankees, he would say the rosary every day. The Red Sox won the game and except for three or four times in his life, he was true to his promise. He graduated as the valedictorian of his class.
He entered the Society of Jesus at Shadowbrook in Lenox, Mass., on July 30, 1950, and his novice master was Fr. John Post, SJ. He began the juniorate in 1952 and it was his favorite part of the course, especially the first year, which focused on poetry. Fr. William Carroll, SJ, encouraged Fr. Pepin with his interest in music. In 1954 he began philosophical studies at Weston College in Weston, Mass., also studying mathematics and physics. His regency was at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and at BC High teaching math and physics.
Fr. Pepin returned to Weston in 1960. During theology he began composing instrumental pieces, especially Christmas compositions. Bishop Reilly ordained him a priest on June 15, 1963. Cardinal Cushing was slated to be the ordaining prelate, but he was in Rome for the conclave that elected Pope Paul VI on June 21, 1963. He then returned to BC High for one year. In 1965 Fr. Pepin was sent to tertianship in Volta Redonda, Brazil, a western city in the state of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. After tertianship he did pastoral ministries in Salvador, Bahia.
He returned to the States and did a master’s degree in mathematics at Boston College. In 1967 he went Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, and taught math until 1972. In 1972 he took a leave of absence for one year and worked in Denver in a large corporation as a computer programmer. In 1973 he returned to Cheverus for the next four years. He taught math and French. Wanting to return to the missions, but realizing that Brazil was out of the question, Fr. Pepin was attracted to working in Alaska. One year he taught at Monroe High School in Fairbanks. The following year he taught math and religion in St. Mary’s School in St. Mary’s, Alaska, a city over 400 miles west of Anchorage.
In 1982 he had the opportunity to spend a year focusing on his music, at the invitation of Fr. Harold Bumpus, Fr. Pepin’s former-Jesuit classmate, also a keen musician and organ builder, who was pastor at St. Theresa’s Church, in Spring Hill, Fla., to work. During this year he composed In Paradisum, a vocal piece for piano or organ accompaniment. Other choral pieces followed. His most noted choral arrangement was Obedient unto Death, an oratorio about the passion and death of Jesus. It was first performed in Fairbanks in April 12, 1987, on Palm Sunday. The score of Obedient unto Death was included in the Fairbank’s Time Capsule that is to be opened in 2059 for the 100th anniversary of Alaskan statehood. Later, the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale staged this oratorio twice. This composition was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and reached the finals. In 2002 the Pittsburgh Concert Chorale performed the world premiere of Hadassah, a musical drama about the story of Esther. Fr. Pepin composed the music and Doris Esteban wrote the libretto.
In 1983 Fr. Pepin returned to Fairbanks. There he worked for the next 27 years in various capacities. Also he composed most of his musical works in these years. He was the director of liturgical music at the cathedral. He taught religion, math, music and French in both grammar school and high school, and he worked in adult education formation. From 1988 to 2010 he worked in the Hispanic apostolate of the Diocese of Fairbanks. One of his last assignments there was as director of a house of prayer in Fairbanks. In 2010 he was assigned to Campion Center in Weston. His last musical composition was the Prelude and Organ Motifs that he composed and performed at the ceremony of rededication for the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Campion Center on June 19, 2011. There was a motif for each of the 12 stained glass windows. He died peacefully on Jan. 4, 2014.