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University gathers to mourn student’s death

Joseph McMahon | Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Friends, family and classmates gathered at the Basilica Tuesday night in memory of Andrew Bunikis, a Zahm junior from Phoenix who died in a bus crash in Thailand last Friday.

Bunikis had taken the semester off to continue his work educating children in northern Thailand.

University president Fr. John Jenkins presided over the Mass. In his greeting, he expressed feeling of “sadness” and “loss.” Jenkins also welcomed Bunikis’ immediate family – his parents Al and Caroline and his sister Michelle – who attended the memorial service.

Former Zahm Hall rector Fr. Daniel Parrish, who was the dorm rector when Bunikis was on campus, delivered the homily at the memorial. He also mentioned Bunikis’ family.

“Our hearts are heavy as we remember the life of a man who was taken from us too soon,” Parrish said in his homily. “Our hearts are breaking tonight with Andrew’s family.”

Parrish described Bunikis as a truly caring young man who served the people of Thailand “whom he had grown to love.”

He emphasized the theme of the cross and what it means to carry its burden.

“We find ourselves tormented by this tragic death,” Parrish said. “There is no getting around it. Tonight, we know the cross.”

However, Parrish said Bunikis’ life is an example of someone who did all they could to spread hope.

“We come together in this place to declare against the darkness of the night the brilliant light of Christ,” he said. “[Andrew’s mission] was to bring hope to all he met, from South Bend to Thailand.”

Current Zahm Hall rector Corry Colona, who lived down the hall from Bunikis, offered words of remembrance at the end of the service.

He said Bunikis was “very kind and had a special energy about him” and was “very determined.”

Colona said when Bunikis told him he was nervous about being in Thailand for Christmas, Colona “encouraged him to not focus on the homesickness but to find value in his experience there, to pick a moment and make a full sensory memory of it.”

In an e-mail to Colona, Bunikis described how he had brought American Christmas traditions to his school in Thailand. He stuffed stockings with candy, decorated with streamers and Christmas lights and taught the kids how to make gingerbread houses.

“I did my best to identify what I was feeling in all five senses – it was a good way to remember a happy moment,” Bunikis said in the e-mail.

Colona said Bunikis’s work in Thailand perfectly described the type of person he was.

“Andrew cared about others,” he said. “His happy moment was completely intertwined with bringing joy to the people around him. He set out to make a difference in their lives by sharing his creativity and enthusiasm with others.”

Colona also said Bunikis would keep notes posted around his room. While some were simple reminders about tests and sporting events, others were more ambitious like “learn Cantonese” and “learn to play piano.”

“Andrew believed that he would accomplish those bigger tasks and he planned to accomplish them, just like he planned to take a test or do his laundry,” he said. “I never saw the notes myself, but I hope that one of them said, ‘make a difference in the world,’ and another one ‘Give to those in need,’ because Andrew certainly accomplished those things in his life.”

Colona concluded by saying that Bunikis’ life should serve as an example to others, and has certainly impacted his own. He said he has already made his own note – “Believe like Andrew believed.”

“I encourage all of you, whose lives Andrew touched, to make a note for yourself, one that Andrew would have appreciated,” he said. “I really think Andrew would enjoy that, and that way, a part of what Andrew’s life stood for will continue to be part of your life, and Andrew’s spirit, through you, can continue to touch people.”