Welcoming the departed

Author: Pat Klepper '77

If you had an 8 a.m. class in the 1973 academic year, my freshman year, and if you lived in North Quad, you knew who was in women’s rowing. As you walked to or from North Dining Hall for breakfast, you would see them returning from their early morning workout, wearily happy and charged with the vitality that comes with fresh air, water and exercise. Women’s Rowing: My first iconic image of women’s athletics at Notre Dame.

I didn’t hang out with them or talk with them much, but I knew who they were. Many of them lived in my dorm, BP, which of course brought any kind of chance encounter in day-to-day living. “Crew team” is redundant, they would tell me. It’s just “crew.”

Fast-forward through that monumental First Year of Studies, and it’s now graduation week and many students have gone home for the year. The campus has seemingly blossomed just for the parents of the graduating seniors. (“What do you mean, the weather is lousy? It’s beautiful here!”) There is a lightness and happiness in the air. After a slow-starting spring, campus has finally shaken off winter and the pressure of books and studies. It is now a time of celebration for the promise of futures unfolding.

I was there as a member of the choir that sang at Baccalaureate Mass. The joy was palpable even through the formality and splendor of the opening procession. Then the announcement by one of the priests: Traffic Accident. Women’s Rowing. Injuries. Two Dead. And the names: Boni Burton and Elizabeth Storey. The Mass was being offered in their memory and for the injured.

Did the earth jolt along its axis, or was it just me? Gasps of shock, muffled cries, some people reaching out to others. I didn’t sense that many of the seniors knew who they were, but at that moment, I imagined that the heart of every parent reached out simultaneously to those involved in the accident as well as to their own children, sitting safely in chairs on the floor of the ACC. Struck by the fragility of life, we were all united in prayer to the God of Love who, like the waves lapping against shore’s edge, both gives and takes back.

The Breen-Phillips memorial was held the following fall after students had returned to campus. I had transferred to Lyons Hall and did not hear of the memorial service until after it was over. But the memory lingered, and the years passed, and by some happy chance I became class secretary in 2000. I noticed, in preparing for our class Mass for the 2002 Reunion that Boni’s name was not on the list of deceased. This was because she had not graduated with the class, I learned from the Alumni Association. The Alumni Association and I then worked together to add her to the class so that she would be included when we prayed for our deceased. I’m not sure how it happened, but we also got Beth Storey, who would have graduated before us. We welcomed her, for we knew of her and thought it altogether fitting to remember and pray for her too.

As a footnote, it should be mentioned that the 2002 Reunion, our 25th anniversary of graduation, was the first Reunion that Jody Gormley attended. I can’t say what the reluctance was before that time, but she’s not alone in that regard (it was my first Reunion also). At that Reunion, Jody was warmly received. I told her of the South Bend Tribune article, which I had obtained through ND Archives and which I later provided to her, to aid in her quest to have Boni and Beth recognized.