Jules Viau, revered and longtime Canterbury School Language Department faculty member, died on Friday, April 20, 2018. He was 91 years old.
Jules Viau grew up speaking French with family and friends in the francophone region of Holyoke, MA before learning English at the age of seven by the nuns at his elementary school. He attended Assumption Prep, MA and Assumption College, MA then earned a licentiate in philosophy from Laval University in Quebec City, Canada. Jules came to Canterbury in 1954 directly from a master's program at the University of Massachusetts through which he earned a degree in French literature. He knew of Canterbury because of the School's roots in the Catholic community and former headmaster Walter Sheehan's basketball fame in his central Massachusetts hometown. When he came to campus for his interview, Jules was not sure of the impression he made, but Headmaster Sheehan popped in and declared, "He's from South Holyoke—he can cut it." And true, he did "cut it"—and much more—for his 40 years at the School.
A renaissance man, Jules taught Latin, French, and Spanish. He contributed significantly to a Language Department that valued intellectual curiosity, cross-subject expertise, and academic eagerness—all ideals that Jules, himself, embodied. He listened endlessly to classical music, loved modern philosophy, and spent his days in scholarly debate, switching, as he could, among languages. There was not a subject that Jules could not speak to, or, at the very least, read up on and quickly become an expert to share humbly with his students.
A mere five years after joining the faculty, Jules received the 1959 Cantuarian dedication, noted as a "quiet yet determined man" who "guided [his students] to knowledge through wisdom." The dedications of the yearbook to Jules in 1959, 1969, and 1982 speak to his enduring legacy and the impact he made on the lives of his students. He was one of only two faculty members to have received three such honors.
Jules was famous for delicately extracting participation from his students. It is reported that he would often stand behind the rows of desks in his class, guiding a distracted pupil toward an answer or otherwise engaging a sleepy class with the material. Countless alumni have graduated Canterbury holding close to them their nickname of "tomata"—a term endeared by Jules after hearing an incorrect answer or spotting a pair of faltering eyes and "tapping" a student gently on the side of his head. Always accompanied by a good-humored sigh, Jules encouraged learning through his demand of the material accompanied by his understanding nature. In true boarding school fashion, Jules also served as a coach, leading the tennis program for several decades.
"[Jules' students] worked for him because they knew he was working for them," wrote Dean of Faculty Wright Danenbarger in the spring 2013 edition of the PALLIUM. His students knew that he always had their back. As an educator on a boarding school campus, Jules served in the unofficial role of a provisional parent; he was deeply involved with and cared for each passing student. "[Mr. Viau] was First Team All-Canterbury for 40 years," noted Mike Meserole '68. In addition to his duties as a teacher and coach, Jules was the Director of Guidance, appointed specially by the Headmaster because of his endless compassion and commitment to his students as growing, learning individuals.
Jules retired in 1994 after 40 years of dedicated service to the School. He was the recipient of the Canterbury Medal in 1997. In 2014, his former student Jack Heffernan '58 generously established The Jules G. Viau Chair in Foreign Language. Jules has consistently been one of the most requested faculty members for Reunion Weekend. Even approaching 25 years into his retirement, Jules continued to be admired and respected on campus. He remains in the hearts of his students, recognized in theirs as they were equally in his.
Revered as quiet yet determined, demanding yet empathetic, wise but endlessly inquisitive, Jules Viau will always be remembered as a good, true school man. He is survived by his wife, Helene, and his children, Joseph '79 and Mary '83.
A Mass will be held to celebrate the life of Jules Viau on Tuesday, April 24 at 1:00 p.m. at the Chapel of Our Lady, Canterbury School. The interment will follow at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery in New Milford. Calling hours will be held on Monday, April 23 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at Lillis Funeral Home, 58 Bridge Street, New Milford, CT.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made either to Canterbury School, 101 Aspetuck Ave., New Milford, CT or to the New Milford Visiting Nurse Association, 68 Park Lane Road, New Milford, CT 06776.
To read the obituary published for Jules Viau through his family, please follow this link.