In Memoriam: ND microbiologist Julian Pleasants

by Michael O. Garvey

Julian Pleasants

Julian R. Pleasants, associate professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, died Friday (Sept. 17) at the Sanctuary at Holy Cross. He was 92.

A native of Palmetto, Fla., and a 1939 Notre Dame alumnus, Pleasants began working at LOBUND, Notre Dame’s germ-free research center, in 1944, earned a doctoral degree in microbiology from the University in 1966, and continued in germ-free research for the rest of his life.

Joining the Catholic Worker movement during the last years of the Great Depression, Pleasants helped found and manage the first Catholic Worker house of hospitality in South Bend in 1941, serving unemployed men meals made from Notre Dame cafeteria leftovers. While working at the house, he also studied for a master’s degree in theology from the University and became one of a community of Catholic social activists including the Catholic writer and editor Eugene Geissler and Notre Dame’s liberal arts professor Willis Nutting. He also began a correspondence with his future wife, Mary Jane Brady, then editor of “Life and Home” magazine. They married in 1948.

The following year, the Pleasants’ joined a group of friends from the Notre Dame theology program to purchase and divide an 80-acre farm in what is now Granger, Ind., to live a religious communal life in close contact with the land. In this community, the Pleasants’ raised seven children, became founding members of Little Flower Church, and continued a way of life that attempted to integrate faith, Catholic liturgy, a commitment to social justice, and the celebration of life.

Along with his microbiological research and teaching, Pleasants was a peace activist, a passionate advocate for developmentally disabled people, a longtime volunteer at LOGAN and a founding member of Friends of l’Arche. He wrote articles for a variety of Catholic journals on the relationship between religion and science.

An unfailingly cheerful man whose love of life was as infectious as much of what he studied, Pleasants loved variegated parties, excruciating puns and, notwithstanding his piercing and eccentric tenor, choral singing.

Survivors include three daughters, Martha (John) Harper and Maddie Pleasants of Granger, Ind., and Mary Anne (Joe) Lowndes of Madison, Wisc.; four sons, John (Barbara) Pleasants of Ames, Iowa, Peter (Margaret) Pleasants of Providence, R.I., Jim (Jaynie) Pleasants of Seattle, Wash., and Mike (Deb) Pleasants of St. Paul, Minn.; and 17 grandchildren.

A visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday (Sept. 24) and a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 25), both in Little Flower Catholic Church (54191 Ironwood Rd.).

Contributions in memory of Dr. Julian R. Pleasants may be made to the Logan Center, 2505 East Jefferson Blvd., South Bend, IN 46615; or to Little Flower Catholic Church.