When Brian Kelly leads his Notre Dame Fighting Irish onto the field tonight against Alabama, Barry Sullivan will be watching from the stands. A little over two years ago Sullivan's oldest child, Declan, was on a scissors lift videotaping the Irish football practice when high winds caused the lift to topple and killed the 20-year-old student. He and his family have taken Declan's death with more grace than most could ever hope to muster.
Instead of law suits, forced firings and acrimony, the Sullivans began the Declan Drumm Sullivan Fund to help poor students in Chicago get a college education. Started with an undisclosed amount from the university and unsolicited gifts that poured in after Declan's death, its first batch of students have been christened "Declan's Forty" and attend Chicago's Horizon for Youth program.
To this day some still cannot believe that the Sullivans didn't sue and others believe that Brian Kelly was utimately responsible and paid no price. But Sullivan says that it was obvious that the coach shared their grief and the university's response convinced him and his wife that legal action was not the way to go. And Declan's sister, Wyn, lead the way by returning to classes at Notre Dame after the funeral. It was, she said, where she wanted to be.
Declan was named after Declán mac Eircc, a 5th Century Irish Saint who proceeded St. Patrick in the task of turning the Irish people toward Christianity. Perhaps the response of the Sullivan family shows us that Saints still walk among us.