BUFFALO GROVE, Ill. — Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly and several of the team’s players were among several hundred mourners Monday at the funeral of a student killed last week when a tower from which he was videotaping a practice toppled over.
A bell tolled as an altar boy holding aloft a large crucifix led Declan Sullivan‘s casket out of the St. Mary Catholic Church following the 90-minute funeral service in suburban Chicago.
Holding hands, the junior’s mother and father followed closely behind the dark-wood casket — Alison Sullivan falling into the arms of a clergyman in white robes after pallbearers carefully slid her son’s casket into a silver hearse.
A somber-looking Kelly descended the steps of the yellow-brick church a few minutes later, as did star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and half a dozen other members of the team.
Sullivan had been on a scissor lift last Wednesday that fell as wind gusts reached around 50 mph. Kelly didn’t speak to reporters Monday, but said over the weekend that it was his decision to hold practice outdoors on a windy day.
During the service, Kelly and the players spoke briefly to the student’s parents, Sullivan’s uncle, Mike Miley, told reporters afterward. At the family’s request, reporters were not permitted inside the church.
Sullivan’s sister, Wyn, told attendees her brother’s life was a spark, and though he died too young, that spark would continue through others he touched, Miley said.
Notre Dame’s vice president for student affairs, the Rev. Tom Doyle, delivered the homily, telling attendees “to let go of the things that give you pain and ascend to a stream that will give you joy,” Miley said, paraphrasing Doyle.
Doyle also compared Sullivan to a pilot character in Richard Bach‘s novel “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah,” saying he shared the same passion and aversion to conventional thinking.
While nearly everyone at the service had tears in their eyes, Miley said, there was also laughter and smiles as attendees remembered Sullivan.
The packed church in Buffalo Grove, not far from Sullivan’s hometown of Long Grove, listened to family members perform Irish music. Among the flowers laid by the casket, many were sent by universities from around the country, Miley said.
Kelly had said Saturday that dealing with Sullivan’s death was especially difficult because he had gotten to know him personally as they spent time together in the film and video offices.
State regulators have launched an investigation into the accident to see if the school violated safety rules by allowing Sullivan to shoot the practice from the lift on a blustery day.
But family members have focused on celebrating Sullivan’s 20 years of life and aren’t thinking, for now, about who may have been to blame, Miley said.
“We aren’t engaged in that process,” he said.
Two buses brought dozens of Notre Dame students from South Bend to attend the funeral, Miley said. He added that the Sullivans have been grateful for the emotional support Notre Dame administrators and students have provided.
During a game on Saturday in South Bend, both Notre Dame and Tulsa players wore helmet decals in the shape of a shamrock with the initials DS in the middle. And just before the team captains met, a moment of silence was observed as Sullivan’s name and picture were shown on the scoreboard.
The family has long been Notre Dame boosters, even before their son entered the school, Miley said. He added that Declan Sullivan himself was passionate about his job filming the team.
“He died doing what he loved,” Miley said.