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University family mourns Declan Sullivan

Laura McCrystal and Sarah Mervosh | Friday, October 29, 2010

Everyone had his or her own way of honoring Declan Sullivan.

The men of Fisher Hall were united by wearing lime green dorm sunglasses. Each Lewis Hall resident carried a yellow flower. Students who could not fit inside the Basilica of the Sacred Heart stood outside, holding candles from the Grotto that flickered gently amongst the crowd.

But when it came time for the sign of peace, dorm mates, friends and people who had never met Sullivan crossed aisles to hug each other in a powerful example of the homily’s message: We are loved, and we are not alone.

Around 1,000 people attended Thursday’s Mass held in honor of Sullivan, the Notre Dame junior who died in an accident Wednesday. More than 1,000 others gathered outside and about 500 watched the Mass live in the LaFortune Student Center.

University President Fr. John Jenkins presided over the Mass and Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle delivered the homily to the standing room only congregation, which included Sullivan’s family and the entire football team.

The Mass’s scripture readings, the memory of Sullivan and the support of the Notre Dame community serve as reminders of love and connection, Doyle said in his homily. 

“Tonight’s stories and the story of our being here together as a community this night tell us that we are loved, and we are not alone,” Doyle said. “The divine scriptures, this Basilica filled tonight, the people standing outside, the body and blood that we will share tonight, not only remind us, but they will show us in high drama that we are loved and we are not alone.”

Doyle acknowledged the fear, isolation, guilt and anger that Sullivan’s family and friends, as well as the entire Notre Dame community, are experiencing in the aftermath of Wednesday’s accident.

“Most days we live here in a place that feels like Eden before the Fall,” Doyle said. “But there are times in all of our lives that make us feel like we no longer have a story to orient us.”

Despite these feelings, Doyle looked to the readings as stories for guidance and comfort.

“No, we have not fallen off the page,” he said. “We are not lost. Yes, there are stories that tell us exactly who we are and where we are and where we are going.”

Doyle also related the power of the stories in scripture to Sullivan’s love of storytelling. He said Sullivan’s passion for filmmaking allowed him to create meaningful stories through the lens of a camera.

“Declan Sullivan has told great stories. His life has been a truly great story,” Doyle said. “Declan Sullivan and Jesus Christ invite us into the greatest story, the story of Jesus Christ’s love … that we are loved and that we are never truly alone.”

Doyle quoted a Eucharistic prayer that says, for those who follow Christ, life will not end after death, but simply change.

“Declan Sullivan’s life is changed, but it is not ended,” he said. “Declan now lives in the most full form and the best essence of his being.”

Those standing outside could hear the Mass through speakers, but they were unable to see it.

Freshman Kathleen Duncan did not know Sullivan personally, but she remained outside on the chilly, windy night to stand in solidarity with the Notre Dame community.

“The whole feeling of the campus and the community just made me want to be here,” she said. “You could tell everyone was cold but … nobody complained.”

Duncan said the crowd gathered outside the Basilica was “very united,” particularly during the sign of peace. Though Duncan only came with two other students, she turned and hugged the people around her.

“It was like a big family,” she said.

Student body chief of staff Nick Ruof, who helped organize the Mass, said he knew there would be an outpouring of attendees, but even more attended than he expected.

“The security guards and the ushers said, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it,’” Ruof said.

Around nine priests were needed to serve communion to the crowd outside, which included an additional 500 people who walked over from the watch in LaFortune, he said.

After the congregation sang the Alma Mater, hesitantly raising their index fingers into the air, words from Doyle’s homily stuck with them.

“Declan is loved and he is not alone. And we are loved and we are not alone.”