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Basilica Mass held in remembrance of Valero

Sam Stryker and Megan Doyle | Friday, April 8, 2011

Rain fell and the Basilica’s bells chimed as hundreds filed out of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart Thursday evening after a Mass of Remembrance in honor of Sean Valero.

During the Mass, Fr. Tom Doyle recounted the sophomore’s funeral, held only 12 hours earlier.

At the request of the Valero family, four of his friends from Keenan walked in the funeral procession alongside his parents and sister as the casket was carried down the aisle of St. Helen’s Church in Niskayuna, N.Y.

The image of Valero’s friends and family illustrated the Doyle’s message in the homily: Our brokenness can bring us together.

“It was both the wounds and the strength, fully exposed, that brought them together and delivered them to the Lord,” Doyle said. “That’s what it means to be a family. That’s what it means to be Notre Dame.”

Students filled the Basilica pews during the memorial Mass for Valero less than one week after campus learned of his death.

Fr. Joseph Carey, interim director of Campus Ministry, presided over the Mass, and Doyle, vice president of Student Affairs, delivered the homily to the standing room only congregation.

The men of Keenan Hall filled the first six rows, dressed in blazers, and Keenan rector Fr. Dan Nolan was among the celebrants on the altar.

Luke’s gospel about the healing of a paralytic highlighted the need to be humble in difficult times, Doyle said. In the gospel, four of the paralytic’s friends lowered him through a roof so Jesus could heal him, both physically and spiritually.

Doyle said Notre Dame students can be like the friends who help the paralytic in the gospel reading.

“We’re the Fighting Irish. What are you fighting for? It’s a question that begs description of who we are,” he said. “Notre Dame is a community inspired by Christ, and we are the kind of people who are fighting to lift up the other, to care for the vulnerable and to take that in prayer to Jesus.”

Doyle spoke words directly to Sean in the voice of the Notre Dame community.

“Your idealism and inherent compassion toward the poor, the needy, the destitute, your kindness toward animals, those are unique gifts that the world needs and that we need,” he said.

Notre Dame students are good at serving others, Doyle said, but they must also be open to help in their times of need.

“Are we humble enough, are we humble enough to let others help, to carry us when we are in need, when we are paralyzed?” Doyle said. “The need of the paralytic is so obvious, but do we expose any vulnerability? … If a wound isn’t exposed, how can it be healed?”

Notre Dame represents a community “bound by faith” where members must serve and be open to being served, Doyle said, which is where the University derives its solidarity.

“This community … is the kind where a group of guys or women recognize a person in need, subordinate our own agenda and care for someone else,” he said.

Later in the Mass, the congregation echoed this message of unity through times of trouble as students reached across pews and aisles to join hands and pray the “Our Father.” The men of Keenan then embraced one another during the sign of peace.

“It is not the perfection of your faith that draws you closest to God,” Doyle said. “It is our imperfection that leads to healing, to resurrection and to God.”

As Doyle spoke, students quietly took in his words. When the time came to sing the Alma Mater, students wrapped their arms around each other, shoulder to shoulder, and sang with full voice.

Student body president Pat McCormick said the number of students present to remember Valero spoke to the unity of the Notre Dame family.

“We will never forget Sean,” he said.

Despite the somber environment, Doyle said the Mass was a celebration of Sean’s life.

“Sean is still very much alive in Jesus Christ,” Doyle said. “Sean’s brokenness drew Christ so close to his presence that he remains with him.”

Before the congregation quietly poured out into the rain, Tami Schmitz, a member of Campus Ministry staff, read a statement from the Valero family written for the members of the Notre Dame community.

“There is something you can do for us. When you leave here tonight and go home, tell somebody there that you love them and that you appreciate them. And then live that out every day.”