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Friends, family remember O’Connor

Heather VanHoegarden | Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Lt. j.g. Ryan O’Connor, a 2002 Notre Dame graduate, died Sunday at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in South Bend of injuries sustained when he was hit by a car while walking with friends after leaving a local bar early that morning.O’Connor, a former Siegfried Hall resident, was in town last weekend for the Notre Dame-Michigan game at Notre Dame Stadium.”That’s where he was,” his 18-year old sister Siobhan O’Connor said from the family residence in West Chester, Penn. “He was probably so happy [Notre Dame] won, and he was there.”After spending six months on a ship overseas, O’Connor was happy to be back on land, and as an added bonus, back on the campus of Notre Dame, the university he loved.”You could just tell how happy he was to be back,” Siobhan said.O’Connor visited the campus as part of his two-week leave following his return from a six-month deployment to the Middle East. He was assigned to the USS Leyte Gulf, a ship assigned to protect petroleum tanks in the waters of the Persian Gulf. His ship was stationed just off the coast of Bahrain and Iraq, where he served as a surface warfare officer. O’Connor returned from his tour of duty Aug. 13, when his ship arrived at its homeport in Norfolk, Va. “He wasn’t a die-hard naval officer, but it was something to do after college, a great job,” Siobhan said of her brother, who entered the program to pay for college. “He had so many friends on the ship. He got to see so many places.”And when O’Connor arrived at home safely, his family was relieved.”We were worried about him because they get crazy over there. My mom did most of the worrying. We were glad to have him home,” Siobhan said. “That’s just ironic that he was more safe on a ship in the Middle East then he was crossing the street.”At Notre Dame, O’Connor was a Naval ROTC participant for four years.”His tragic loss on Sunday morning is heartfelt among all associated with the battalion,” the Naval ROTC program, said in a statement released by Lt. Tim Joyce Monday. “As with the rest of the ND community, we are saddened by his passing. This accident represents more than just the loss of a recent alumnus, for he was more than just an ND student … Our dearest sympathies go out to the O’Connor family whose loss undoubtedly cannot be measured in terms of service or potential.”O’Connor was a lifelong Notre Dame fan, as is his family. His dad, Jim, was a seminarian as a Holy Cross priest for four years and his mom, Mary, graduated from Saint Mary’s.”Everyone in our family loves Notre Dame, so we were happy to have someone go there,” Siobhan said. “He really loved it there. That’s where he wanted to go since he was a little kid. I still remember when he got the acceptance letter … he was so happy.”Fred Hanft, a Notre Dame graduate who knew O’Connor for six years, said he was a dedicated friend and family member.”He was truly a Notre Dame man – he loved Notre Dame, he loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved Philly, he loved the Jersey Shore,” Hanft said after Sunday’s Mass in Siegfried that honored O’Connor.Siegfried rector Father John Conley also remembered O’Connor fondly.”He was a great guy,” Conley said during the mass. “For me, who spans the years here, he might as well have been one of you. It was just like yesterday that they were living in the sections upstairs and at Mass here.”Siobhan said her brother was dedicated to his family and friends, seeing them whenever he could, even with his military commitment.”As soon as he got a day off, he’d go see someone,” she said. “He wanted to be with people.”Siobhan remembered the time O’Connor drove to Notre Dame from Norfolk to see one of his older sisters, who was a student at Boston College at the time, because she had driven up to see the game in South Bend.”Whenever he got two days off, he always saw either family or friends,” Siobhan said. “He was really good at keeping in touch.”Siobhan said Thanksgiving was O’Connor’s favorite holiday, when the family went to New Jersey to spend time with relatives, including his two other sisters, Maureen, 22, and Flannery, 20.”That was his favorite time of the year,” Siobhan said.O’Connor also loved sports, especially cross country and track and field, both of which he participated in during high school.He also played basketball with his youngest sister, who is now a freshman on the Villanova basketball team.”He was always playing basketball with me in the driveway,” Siobhan said. “He loved sports; he was very active.”Because of his good health, O’Connor was able to help others, as he was an organ donor.”He was a real healthy guy, so he’s going to be helping a lot of different people,” Siobhan said. “It didn’t have to be that way … but it is comforting that it’s not a complete waste.”O’Connor died Sunday with his parents at his side. They flew into South Bend after hearing about the accident that morning. Notre Dame Security picked them up at the airport and took them to the hospital where Father Mark Poorman, vice president of Student Affairs was waiting, along with Bill Kirk, associate vice president for Student Affairs.”It’s a devastating thing for them,” Poorman said. “We’ve really gathered around the O’Connor family.” Kirk emphasized the fact that the University tried to show its support with the presence of himself and Poorman at the hospital.”It’s very powerful the way this community comes together even after people have graduated,” he said. “You want to be that comfort, that support, on behalf of the University.”O’Connor’s body will taken to Philadelphia, via military escort with one of his best friends from Norfolk. Siobhan said her brother will have a Catholic funeral, but will still have the American flag draped on his casket.”He was such a good all-around guy,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a better brother.”