Tragic death of Declan Sullivan at Notre Dame creates a surprising legacy
Sullivans continue to cheer on Fighting Irish, look to celebrate Declan’s life
Irish-American Declan Sullivan died tragically and suddenly while he was at a Notre Dame football practice which he was filming. He was atop a 40-foot aerial lift that collapsed in strong and unexpected gusts of wind.
There were media calls for Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, who attended practice the day Sullivan died, to be fired, and for Coach Brian Kelly, who decided to practice outdoors that day, to resign.
Instead Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins took full responsibility for the accident, saying the school had failed to keep Declan safe. His acceptance of responsibility went down well with the family, as The New York Times reported.
Now, while the Sullivans acknowledge that their son’s death was preventable, they continue to cheer on the Fighting Irish and choose to celebrate Declan’s life through a foundation in his name, ‘Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Fund,’ which partnered with a Chicago charity that helps underprivileged children get a good education.
Declan’s sister Wyn attends school at Notre Dame now still, and younger brother Mac just submitted an application. The Sullivans will even be in attendance at the BCS championship game in Miami when the Fighting Irish face off with Alabama.
Declan’s family remembers him fondly as warm and adventurous. They named him Declan, after an Irish saint, and sometimes called him Dec. When he was a boy, they made certain to keep an eye on him, so adventurous was his spirit.
“Notre Dame fandom was a natural extension of their Roman Catholicism,” writes Greg Bishop who spoke with the family for the New York Times.
Declan’s parents attended Catholic school and married in Chicago at Old Saint Patrick’s Church, where their three children were baptized.
When it came time to apply to colleges, Declan Sullivan crossed off the universities that played the Fighting Irish regularly. He wrote his application essay for Notre Dame about how he played the trumpet and how he dreamed of walking on the field at Notre Dame Stadium and how he recognized the instrument as his most realistic route.
Ultimately, Sullivan was waitlisted at Notre Dame, and chose acceptance to Wisconsin in the meantime. However, Notre Dame soon came calling.
While he left his trumpet at home, Sullivan was soon given the opportunity to be on the Notre Dame field as a videographer with the football team, an opportunity put together by one of his film professors.
Sullivan spoke little to his parents of what went on at the field in accordance with team rules. He spoke of the job’s demands and the discipline it required, which they considered a good thing.
Declan more often focused on the environment of game days while filming. The university encouraged him to tape the cheerleaders, the leprechaun mascot, the golden helmets. After games, the family met at the practice facility, where Sullivan dropped off his equipment.
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