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Community remembers Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas one year after tragic car crash

| Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Notre Dame community filled the Basilica of the Sacred Heart Sunday night for a one-year memorial Mass to honor and celebrate the lives of Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas, two students who died after being struck by a car on October 24, 2020.

Adriana Perez | The Observer
The Basilica was packed Sunday night as Notre Dame students, community members and friends remembered Valeria Espinel and Olivia Laura Rojas on the one-year anniversary of their deaths.

Originally from Guayaquil, Ecuador, Espinel was an intended economics major, while Rojas was planning to study in the Mendoza College of Business and hailed from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Both were first-year students in the class of 2024. 

The Mass was organized by the Badin and Cavanaugh Hall communities, where Espinel and Rojas lived respectively. To honor the Latino heritage of Espinel and Rojas, the Mass was celebrated in both English and Spanish. A live stream was available for the Espinel and Rojas families to join the service as well. 

Fr. Bob Dowd, assistant provost for internationalization, presided over the Mass while Fr. Joe Corpora, who serves as chaplain for Latino students at the University, delivered the homily.

After reading from the Gospel of Mark, Corpora expanded on the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man who wants to see Jesus. He explained how the story is not just about being blind. 

“The Gospel also invites us to think about what makes it difficult for us to see ourselves as God sees us, to think about what makes it difficult for us to experience the love and the mercy of God in our lives,” Corpora said.

He went on to say humans fall into a trap of thinking they are never “good enough.”

“We’re always looking to be good enough — good enough for our family, good enough for our roommate, for our friends, for our team, for the world around us, good enough to be at Notre Dame,” he said. 

Yet, Corpora said, God made humans “wholly good.”

Corpora then addressed the congregation in the Basilica who were gathered for the one-year anniversary of Espinel and Rojas’ death, saying that no one understood why the tragedy happened. Corpora said he suspected that if their families and friends addressed Jesus, they would say they “want to know why this horrible accident has happened.” Corpora expressed that he could not answer that question.

“I don’t understand either,” Corpora said. “I cannot make sense of it.”

Believing that God has control over everything and has a watchful eye does not explain everything, Corpora said.

“It does not explain the tragic deaths of two young women, full of life and energy and enthusiasm and love,” he said. 

Corpora touched on a quote from the French priest John Baptiste, who wrote, “All that I know of tomorrow is that Providence will rise before the sun.” He explained that in response to questions regarding tragedies in life, Jesus would respond that “God’s providence will rise tomorrow before the sun does.”

Although the Notre Dame community has already experienced the loss of Espinel and Rojas, Corpora said that the community will continue to grieve; but with faith, they will grieve “as people with hope.”

People who knew Espinel and Rojas said they were “best friends.” After the Mass, Cavanaugh rector Jo Cecilio described how on the first day she met Rojas, she thought Rojas and Espinel were related.

“The way they acted around each other, they were family,” Cecilio said. 

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About Alysa Guffey

Alysa is a junior pursuing a major in history with minors in digital marketing and journalism, ethics and democracy. While she calls Breen-Phillips her home on campus, she is originally from Indianapolis. She currently serves as the Notre Dame News Editor.

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