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Campus community gathers in prayer to honor students who died in car crash

| Monday, October 26, 2020

On Saturday night, hundreds of members of the tri-campus community gathered at a prayer service to honor the lives of first-years Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas, who died early Saturday morning after being hit by a car. 

Espinel lived in Badin Hall and originally hailed from Guayaquil, Ecuador. She intended to study economics. Rojas, originally from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, lived in Cavanaugh Hall and was planning to study in the Mendoza College of Business. 

A third Notre Dame student, sophomore Eduardo Jose Elias Calderon, was also hit by the car and remains in critical condition as of Sunday afternoon.

Claire Rafford | The Observer

Hundreds in the Notre Dame community gathered in the Grotto Saturday night in a prayer service for first-years Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas, who died early that morning in a car crash.

Fr. Pete McCormick, director of Campus Ministry, began the prayer service by addressing the tragic nature of Espinel and Rojas’ deaths. 

“There is not a single one of us who planned to be here this night with heavy hearts,” he said. “There’s not a single one of us that could have anticipated what this day and how this day was to unfold.”

McCormick thanked attendees for coming to the prayer service.

“When a situation with such tragedy arises, this is how the Notre Dame family responds,” he said. “We come together with heavy hearts … with a belief that a God who transforms all things will transform even this.”

University President Fr. John Jenkins then offered the opening prayer to the service. Jenkins said the deaths of Espinel and Rojas leave many people reeling for answers and that faith can provide some comfort in this time. 

“We don’t come for answers,” Jenkins said. “We come simply to let God’s grace begin to work in our hearts. The first installment of that grace is that we’re here together.”

Fr. Joe Corpora, who serves as the chaplain for Latino students at the University, began his message in Spanish. 

“Aunque todos nuestros hermanos y hermanas de América Latina hablan inglés perfectamente bien, quiero decir una palabra de español ahora.”

“Though all of our brothers and sisters from Latin America speak English perfectly well, I want to say a few words in Spanish now,” he said. 

Corpora said the deaths of Espinel and Rojas bring a kind of pain that words cannot describe. 

“Our minds can begin to understand what happened, but our hearts and our spirits cannot take it in,” he said. “It is too much too sad, too tragic, too big for us to accept and understand what has happened. I wish that I could say some words to you that would make everything better. But there are not.

“There is only one thing that I can say that can make some sense to the mind and to the heart,” Corpora said, as he began to lead the community in a recitation of the Nicene Creed.

Vice president for student affairs Erin Hoffmann Harding delivered the Prayers of the Faithful.

“Our friends, Olivia and Valeria reflected the light of Christ,” Hoffmann Harding said. “May God lead them gently through the waters of death into new life.” 

McCormick then returned to offer the closing prayer to instruct the community on how to exit to the Grotto. 

“This is the beginning of our time together as a community of faith, praying for our friends,” he said. 

Attendees then processed to the Grotto to pay their respects and pray for Espinel, Rojas and Calderon, who is still in critical condition. Hundreds of candles illuminated the Grotto amid the cold October air, mourning the loss of two students, sisters, daughters and friends.

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About Claire Rafford

Claire is a senior from Tempe, Arizona majoring in English and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy and Business-Economics. She peaked when her team won the Battle of the Books state championship in 2011.

Contact Claire