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Memorial held for Aher, McGrath

Chris Hine | Wednesday, February 20, 2008

University President Father John Jenkins called Sunday, the day he learned Timothy Aher and Connor McGrath died, his “worst day as president of Notre Dame.”

Jenkins presided over a Mass Tuesday at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart held in memorial of Aher, a 25-year-old Law School student, and McGrath, a 20-year-old sophomore, who died in unrelated incidents over the weekend.

Students and faculty nearly filled the Basilica and shared laughter and tears listening to stories of Aher and McGrath delivered by law professor Father John Coughlin and Keough Hall rector Father Peter McCormick.

Aher, who was from Brookfield, Conn., and received a Bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Chicago, died Sunday in the town of Ilford, a suburb of London. He was studying in the Law School’s London Programme.

McGrath, from Oklahoma City, died Sunday in Dillon. McGrath was a resident of Siegfried Hall this semester but lived in Dillon his freshman year and had attended the University of Central Oklahoma this fall.

The University has not released information about the causes of either death, but police investigators said Monday that diabetes may have played a role in McGrath’s death.

McCormick, who lived next to McGrath last year when he was an assistant rector in Dillon Hall, said he got to know him well when the two “shared a wall.”

“After living in such close proximity to him, I certainly have plenty of stories to tell about Connor,” McCormick said. “But only some that would be pulpit-ready.”

One “pulpit-ready” story McCormick did share with those gathered involved a time he asked McGrath if he ever considered entering the priesthood.

“Connor kind of gave me that look and then proceeded to avoid me for the next week,” McCormick said. “I figured he had other plans.”

McCormick said McGrath was a “fun-loving social young man who took the time to get to know others” and hoped people remember McGrath as a respectful, outgoing person.

Coughlin, who spoke about Aher’s death, talked about the law student’s accomplishments and mentioned that Aher developed a proficiency in Russian and studied German, French and Uzbek.

“Not only did he enjoy learning to speak a language,” Coughlin said, “but he also immersed himself in the study of the culture and society in which the language was spoken.”

Aher also had a deep appreciation for music, Coughlin said. Aher served as station manager at WHPK-FM, a student-run radio station at the University of Chicago, and wrote reviews of popular music groups.

“Although I have to acknowledge that I have little appreciation of this repertoire,” Coughlin said, “I enjoyed reading Tim’s well-written and clearly expert reviews.”

After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2002, Aher worked for two years at the Bank of America Securities before applying to law school, where he hoped to keep pursuing his love of language by becoming an international lawyer.

Aher also had a summer internship in New York City where he helped AIDS patients deal with their legal problems.

“Although Tim was neither a Catholic nor, from what I know, a person of obvious religious conviction, he was a man with a deep and refined spirit that led him to devote his considerable intellect to service to some of the most poor and powerless of our society,” Coughlin said. “In my opinion, Tim’s example represents the best of what it means to be a law student at Notre Dame.”

Coughlin said Aher also dealt with much pain in his life and his death is a deep loss for him personally, for Notre Dame, and the legal profession.

“To love deeply is to suffer deeply,” Coughlin said. “Tim was no stranger to emotional suffering in his own life, and he struggled mightily to cope with it.”

Father Mark Poorman, vice president of student affairs, delivered the homily and said members of the Notre Dame community are “blessed” to have each other to cope with the deaths of Aher and McGrath.

“Tim and Connor’s lives have been wonderful, further expressions of [God’s] love and we are grateful for the time we spent with them,” Poorman said.