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Life celebrated at memorial mass

| Sunday, March 23, 2014

Connor Sorensen was a fighter.
Friends said he fought playfully in annual games of Humans vs. Zombies on Notre Dame’s campus. In a more literal sense, Sorensen fought against lifelong lung disease and numerous health issues, a battle he ultimately lost Dec. 20, 2013.
Friends and family gathered in the Morrissey Manor chapel Sunday afternoon to celebrate and remember Sorensen, who lived in Morrissey for three years before receiving his degree last fall.
In his homily at the memorial mass, Fr. Ronald Vierling, the rector of Morrissey Manor, said Sorensen lived the virtue of faith and always fought with determination.
“The important thing to know about Connor, I think, is that he fought the good fight,” Vierling said. “And although his body gave out, his spirit did not.”
Senior Sean Brady, one of Sorensen’s close friends, said Sorensen’s toughness was evident throughout his entire life.
“He was really tough. … There were times when he would try and handle his condition through sheer force of will,” Brady said. “He was so stubborn and so tough … It was amazing how tough he was and how self-confident and courageous he was.”

Photo courtesy of Matt Jewell

Photo courtesy of Matt Jewell

Brady said Sorensen strove to make the most of his time at Notre Dame and fought to stay a part of the Notre Dame community as long as he could.
“When he came here, he didn’t think he was going to be living very long, but he really wanted to come to Notre Dame and he really wanted to go to college,” Brady said. “He didn’t want to let the fact that he might not make it to his next birthday dictate his life, and so he came here and he fought to stay here … His doctors wanted him to leave before he did.”
Senior Matt Jewell, who lived with Sorensen in Morrissey, said Sorensen refused to give up despite his physical condition.
“He never quit,” Jewell said. “He might be slower than the group because his lungs were never functioning properly so he would have to slow down, but he would never stop. He would never quit.”
Sorensen’s friend, senior John Mundaden, said Sorensen frequently defied others’ perceptions of his ability to live his life to the fullest.
“You think you could define him by looking at him, but it never ceased to amaze me how tough he was and how brave he was,” Mundaden said. “There was nothing that he couldn’t do or wasn’t willing to try, whether that be playing sports with us or playing Humans vs. Zombies.”
Jewell said Sorensen did not return to Notre Dame in the fall of 2013 for his senior year because his health deteriorated. Vierling said Sorenson still received his diploma from University Provost Tom Burish and the dean of the College of Science Gregory Crawford, who traveled to Sorenson’s home in Portage, Mich., to present it to him before his death in December.
“He did officially graduate,” Jewell said. “He is officially a graduate of Notre Dame, which he and his family are extremely proud of, and rightfully so. He was able to complete all that he did, even with this hardship.”
Jewell said Sorenson majored in biochemistry and described him as “the science guy” of their group of friends. He said Sorenson would have gone on to do great things if disease did not cut his life short.
“He was probably going to do great things,” Jewell said. “He was brilliant with science and he was dedicated to finding cures for really anything he could because of his hardship. I think everyone lost out because he is not around.”
Senior Chris Ayala, another of Sorensen’s friends, said Sorensen was a selfless person despite his health battles.
“Connor was a very driven and passionate person and he lived out the ideal of putting others first before himself,” Ayala said. “Something remarkable about him is that he always had this desire to help people. In particular, he wanted to help people who were in the same position as him … so he would go to his doctors and he would read up on new treatments and basically volunteer himself for science to a point.”
This selflessness was on display when Sorensen returned to Morrissey last November to tell his friends he did not have much time left, Mundaden said.
“When he came by like a week before Thanksgiving to let us know basically that he was in hospice care, and his mentality is that he didn’t want to ruin our holidays,” Mundaden said. “That’s what he was worried about it.”
Despite all of his health struggles, Jewell said Sorensen never breathed a word of complaint about his situation.
“He would not accept special treatment or really any sort of pity or anything,” Jewell said. “He never complained once.”
According to an online remembrance, Sorensen, in addition to participating in Humans vs. Zombies, played the saxophone in the Notre Dame hockey band his freshman year, performed chemistry research and attained the Boy Scouts of America’s highest rank of Eagle Scout.
Through all of his hardship and strife, Vierling said Sorensen’s bravery and courage represented the spirit of Notre Dame in a unique way.
“Connor’s attitude of defiance toward his illness and struggles represents the spirit of Notre Dame to a degree I don’t think others can,” Vierling said.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

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