Friday, October 29, 2010

A campus mourns

By now, you may have heard of the terrible accident that claimed the life of Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan on Wednesday of this week. A friend came across a beautiful description of the Mass celebrated last night (Thursday) in memory of Declan from a student's vantage point. She, like most of us, didn't know Declan personally, but she was drawn to participate in this beautiful display of the Notre Dame family. I want to share the student's blog entry with all of you.

The student's name is Amy.

Here's the text of her blog entry:

I did not know Declan Sullivan.

On Wednesday, Declan was killed on campus in an accident involving a hydraulic lift. He was filming football practice for his job as a student manager, and high winds caused the scissor lift he was filming from to topple over.

He was 20 years old. He was a junior majoring in FTT (film, television and theater) and marketing. He lived in Fisher Hall.

Tonight, Father John Jenkins, University President, presided over a Mass in Declan's memory in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Mass began at 10 p.m. I was in a lecture and movie screening for class until 9:45 pm, and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the Basilica in time to get a seat. I also wasn't sure if I even wanted to go to the Mass. I didn't know Declan, so a part of me thought, "Why should I take a seat from somebody who knew him, loved him, cared about him? Who am I to do that?" But another part of me desperately wanted to go to the Mass to show my support for Declans family during this horrible, difficult time. That part of me wanted to show the Sullivans that Notre Dame is a place where everybody matters, a place where the spirit of the community links everybody together. I was already running late and I knew that my baseball-cap-and-Ugg-bots attire wouldn't fly at the Basilica, so I decided to go over to LaFortune Student Center, where I had heard there would be auxiliary seating and a live feed from the Mass.

As I walked across the God Quad in the dark, I watched people walking towards the Basilica, two by two. The doors were wide open, emanating a warm golden glow. I was able to hear the prelude for Declan's Mass all the way at the flagpole on South Quad, and the sound of the organ became clearer as I crossed through the pine trees and made my way to LaFortune.

Up the winding staircase, I burst into LaFortune and brushed past the representatives from the Student Activities Office who tried to usher me upstairs to the ballroom. "We have some seats left up there," a girl with a nametag whispered. By the time I heard her, I had already set down my backpack near my usual spot in the main lounge. LaFortune was different. Normally, the building serves as a study/food/coffee/socializing/meeting space, and it's one of the busiest places on campus. But tonight, it was quiet. Dimmer, somehow.

All of the comfy armchairs were occupied, so after lingering against a wall, cornered by a trashcan, for a few minutes, I plopped down on the floor like a kindergartner. Mass was beginning. The broadcast was coming through the two large telivisions in the main lounge. (It was available online as well.) during the opening song, the SAO folks brought out a number of chairs from another room, and I snapped up a seat just as Fr. Jenkins was greeting the Sullivan family.

Then, the oddest thing began to happen. Everyone in the room began to respond to the TV, just like Mass.

The Lord be with you.
"And also with you."

I don't know if it was reflex, a genuine desire to participate in the Mass, or some combination of both. All of a sudden, I found myself in the midst of the celebration of the Eucharist in the same room where I drink coffee, read the paper, watch ESPN, and play Sporcie.

Notre Dame is very good at a lot of things, and onne of those things is church. Notre Dame knows how to put on a great Mass, and the higher-ups pulled out all the stops for Declan. The Liturgical Choir provided beautiful music for the service. I was particularly impressed with the selection of the readings. The first reading was Romans 8:31-39 ("If God is for us, who can be against us?") The gospel reading was John 14:1-14 ("I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.").

Father Tom Doyle, Vice President for Student Affairs, gave the homily. He spoke eloquently and simply about storytelling--about Declan's love of telling stories through film and about the feeling that we have been "written out of the book of life" that accompanies loss and grief. Doyle said, "Most days, we live in this place that is like Eden before the fall." Normally, bad things don't happen here. Students joke about the "Notre Dame bubble" for a reason. When terrible things hit Notre Dame, it seems that much worse.

As I watched the Mass on TV from my chair in LaFortune, I noticed the camera kept panning out to the people sitting in the pews at the Basilica. The Sullivan family sat in the front row. Gwynn, Declan's sister, wore a Notre Dame football jersey and Mac, Declan's 15-year-old brother, wore a Notre Dame sweatshirt. Across the aisle, the men of Fisher Hall sat in the other front section, all with their trademark neon green sunglasses pushed back into messy brown waves and perched on blonde crewcuts. Fisherman wear these distinguishing sunglasses around campus all the time, so it seemed appropriate that they wore their shades to Mass in memory of their hallmate. The Notre Dame football team sate behind the contingent from Fisher Hall.

During the Eucharistic Prayer, LaFortune was filled with the mutterings of hundreds of students:

Lift up your hearts.
"We lift them up to the Lord."

When it came time for the Our Father, the Liturgical Choir sang the beautiful Notre Dame Our Father. LaFortune joined hands and joined in Then, everyone got out of their seats for the sign of peace. Hugs and handshakes all around.

The SAO employees notified us that the Eucharist was being distributed outside the Basilica and that we could leave and come back. After a moment of hesitation, about 75% of the room stood up, grabbed coats, and quietly filed out of the room. I was near the door, so I made it out quickly. Down the stairs, across the quad, towards the music and light. There were hundreds of people already standing outside the Basilica--overflow. Outside, there were musicians performing acoustic versions of the songs playing inside. As I huddled around the front of the Basilica, I turned around. A massive block of students stretched all the way from the foot of the Basilica to the stairs of LaFortune, and people continued to stream out of the building from the ballroom on the second floor.

We stood patiently, quietly in the cold. Occasionally, a priest would emerge from the Basilica doors. People gathered around eagerly as the priest distributed Communion. Nobody jostled, nobody complained. We just waited. Slowly, more priests came out. After I received Communion, I walked back to LaFortune. I counted six priests standing outside, each man completely surrounded by students waiting for the Eucharist.

I made it back to LaFortune just in time for the final blessing.

The Mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
"Thanks be to God."

And then, as always, we sang the alma mater, arms around each other, swaying:

Notre Dame, Our Mother
Tender, strong and true
Proudly in the heavens
Gleams thy gold and blue
Glory's mantly cloaks thee
Golden is thy fame
And our hearts forever
Praise thee Notre Dame
And our hearts forever
Love thee, Notre Dame.

The fervent prayers of the Notre Dame community are with Declan Sullivan and his family.

A night like this should never have to happen again.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Service of a New Saint
In his homily for the beatification of John Henry Newman, a month before the scheduled canonization of Blessed Brother André Bessette, C.S.C., Pope Benedict XVI praised the scholarly Victorian Englishman for exemplifying how “our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a ‘definite service,’ committed uniquely to every single person.” The sanctity of Blessed Cardinal Newman, remembered not solely, but primarily, for the veritable library of elegant books, essays, poems, letters, and sermons he has left behind, provides an ironic counterpart to that of Blessed Brother André, an uneducated Quebecois who would have been incapable of reading almost anything Cardinal Newman wrote.

The “definite service” which Blessed Brother André was assigned, and which the Church, by canonizing him, insists is every bit as indispensable as Cardinal Newman’s scholarship, could not have been simpler: His service was to open the door.

Blessed Brother André is the first member of Notre Dame’s founding religious order, the Congregation of Holy Cross, to be proclaimed a saint, and his brother in Holy Cross, Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., will lead a delegation from the University to Rome for canonization ceremonies to be held on Sunday, October 17. Other members of the delegation will include Notre Dame provost Thomas G. Burish, Rev. James E. McDonald, C.S.C., associate vice president and counselor to the president, and Matthew Ashley, chair of Notre Dame’s theology department.

To honor Blessed Brother André Bessette and his service to the sick and needy, Notre Dame students will take up a special collection during the Oct. 16 Notre Dame-Western Michigan football game. The collection will support ongoing efforts of the University and the Congregation to help rebuild Haiti following the devastating earthquake there in January.

Not only among the priests, sisters and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, but also throughout the Notre Dame community, the new saint is affectionately regarded, conspicuously honored and continually invoked. He is routinely mentioned in campus liturgies, and his statue, carved by Rev. Anthony J. Lauck, C.S.C., is in the northeast apsidal chapel of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Another statue of Brother André, this one carved by Notre Dame art professor Rev. James F. Flanigan, C.S.C., is above the south entrance of the University’s Eck Visitors Center.

“Blessed Brother André was famous first as a ferociously hard worker at the high school where he worked his whole life,” said Rev. David Tyson, C.S.C., Provincial Superior of the Indiana Province of Holy Cross. “He simply did everything and anything that was needed, from answering the door to cleaning the floors; from fixing shoes and doing students’ laundry to cutting hair. It seems wonderfully apt and instructive that the first Holy Cross saint was a man who insisted, sometimes testily, that ‘to serve is sweeter than to be served.’”

Born Alfred Bessette on Aug. 9, 1845, in Saint-Grégoire d’Iberville, Québec, Brother André was one of 12 children. By the time he was 12 years old, his father, a lumberman, had been killed in a work accident and his mother had died of tuberculosis. Physically diminutive, chronically ill, uneducated and clumsy with his hands, the young Bessette nevertheless worked as a farmhand, shoemaker, baker, and blacksmith in Québec for six years before leaving for New England, where he spent four years working in textile factories and farms in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

From his earliest childhood, he was quietly but conspicuously prayerful, an inclination which seemed only to intensify during his hardscrabble years as an itinerant laborer, and when he returned to Canada in 1867, he confessed an interest in formal religious life to his local parish priest, who sent him to a nearby community of Holy Cross brothers with a letter assuring its superior that “I am sending you a saint.”

The largely illiterate 25-year old novice was put to work as a porter, or doorman, at Montréal’s Collège of Notre Dame, an assignment in which he continued for the next 40 years.

In addition to welcoming visitors, he served as janitor, launderer, and sacristan, ran errands and provided the students with cheap haircuts. Throughout these years his reputation for humility and kindness grew, as did the numbers of visitors he received. Most of these were poor and sick people, to whom he offered not only his compassion and what material assistance he could provide, but also moral and spiritual advice. Many of his visitors attributed miraculous cures to him, but he would insist, sometimes with annoyance, that any such cures were attributable to the prayers of Saint Joseph.

Brother André’s particular affection for St. Joseph, in addition to the need to accommodate the throngs of people seeking his help, advice and prayers, led to the foundation of Saint Joseph’s Oratory, at first a small structure constructed on Mount Royal with funds from small donations and Brother André’s barbershop income and now a massive basilica which attracts some 2 million pilgrims each year.