Two of the six students killed in Berkeley, Olivia Burke and Niccolai Schuster, were laid to rest on Wednesday in Dublin with hundreds in attendance at each of the emotional farewells.
The two south Dublin students were among those killed last Tuesday in Berkeley, California, when the balcony they were on fell from beneath them. The balcony, it has since been discovered, was riddled with dry rot. The incident claimed the lives of five Irish and one Irish American student and injured seven others.
On Tuesday the funeral of 21-year-old Oliver Burke took place at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, in Foxrock. Bray musician Andrew Hozier-Byrne was among the hundreds paying his respects and played the recessional hymn.
Her funeral Mass in Dublin opened with the hymn “Here I Am Lord” as friends and family brought symbols of her life to the altar. These included a Loreto College journal to symbolize her secondary school (high school) years, a photo of her dog Skipper, a Ted Baker bag and a throw which was gifted to Oliver on her 21st birthday decorated with photos of her life.
Her father, Paul Burke, paid tribute to his daughter whom he described as “caring, considerate” with determination and a strong work ethic.
He said, “I’ve spoken twice before a congregation like this; first at my father’s own funeral service and then at my mother’s service. I found my few words in front of a large gathering quite manageable to be honest. These were two good people who had experienced a full life, 80 and 85 years. This time around it is a challenge to stand here – no parent wishes to see their child part this life at such a tender age.
“Not being able to see where Olivia’s potential journey would have taken her will certainly cause heartache in time to come.
“I would like to mention the overwhelming support on both sides of the Atlantic, in particular from our friends and family in San Francisco and our own extended family in Dublin and our great friends, work and school colleagues.
“This support has been manifested in the amazing turn-out for Olivia’s service today.
“I would like a special mention for the counselors in San Francisco who played a pivotal part in the support, help, guidance and counsel, not just for the victims, but for the wider group of students.
“And also for the clergy we encountered, US clergy by the length of time on the ground but underneath it all, they were Irish,” he continued.
“I actually made reference to Olivia’s service but I think in the context, we are really here for the celebration of Olivia’s life.
“She packed a lot into her short 21 years, in work experience, travel and friendships.”
Her father also paid a special tribute to the relationship Olivia had with her “cousin and soulmate”, Ashley Donohue.
He said, “Separated by over 6,000 miles, they were incredibly close.”
“From around at eighteen months old, all the way to recent years when they continued to trade trips to Ireland and San Francisco, none more exciting than the surprise arrival of Ashley to Olivia’s 18th birthday party.
“You two guys departed this world side by side, together in God’s place and may you look down on the rest of us.”
He ended with words also spoken at his niece Ashley’s funeral.
“You are not forgotten loved one, nor will you ever be, as long as life and memories last, we will remember thee. We miss you now, our hearts are sore, as time goes by we miss you more.
“Your loving smile, your gentle face, no one can fill your vacant place.
“Olivia Burke, my darling, may you rest in peace.”
Celebrant of the Mass Father Frank Herron commented on how the community of Foxrock has reached out to one another in the midst of the tragedy.
“Last Tuesday evening at about 9 o’clock, the bells of our church tolled out the sad news of the tragic death of Olivia and Eimear, two of our young parishioners as well as their four friends,” he said.
“We threw open the doors of our church and because of the constant stream of people, they have not closed before midnight since then. The thought of six young people dying so far away in such circumstances and the thought of their parents and siblings having to make the long journey to bring them back home has pained us all.”
“This week our community of Foxrock has reached out to each other probably as never before. In this building we looked for God and for each other.”
He continued: "Our community has been dealing with the absence of God – where was he when all this happened – and the presence of God all week. And we have experienced both.
"God is like a loving parent. You watch your children grow and mature and eventually move away from you. You do not love them any less in their absence.
"If anything you love them more and think about them every day. And you hope they think about you. It is the same with God. He loves us and we are constantly in his mind and heart even if we move away.
"It doesn’t matter. His love can’t change.
"But he is not a builder, an architect or an engineer.
"He leaves all that to us. He was there that night at the 21st birthday party. He was there as the young people gathered and as they enjoyed themselves. And he was there as the accident happened… falling with them.
"And he was there as some stepped from this world into eternity to embrace them and to take them back to where they came from; to where we all came from – back to the very heart of God."
Six miles away the funeral of Niccolai Schuster took place at Three Patrons Church, in Rathgar.
His parents John and Graziella and his younger brother Alexei were joined by hundreds of mourners.
The young men who shouldered Nick’s coffin wore the red jerseys of his beloved Bayern Munich. Others wore the blue and white of his secondary school, St Mary’s College, Rathmines.
Similar offerings representing the young man’s life were brought to the altar, with commentary from Rory McPhilips. They included a Bushy Park Rangers jersey, a racing program, a globe, and many photos.
At the end of the service Niccolai’s father John spoke about his “magical” son.
He referred to Niccolai as the “love of our lives” and spoke about his magical smile, sense of the ridiculous, how he was sports mad and how proud of his little brother he was. He also said that after his J-1 experience Niccolai had planned to travel to South America for six months.
He told the funeral Mass “Oh my God, he was so special.”
His mother, Graziella, told the congregation their son had brought them “nothing but joy,” while his brother spoke about how proud he was of Niccolai.
The service was streamed on the internet so those students involved in the tragedy and still injured in hospital in California could watch.
Niccolai is to be cremated at Mount Jerome on Wednesday afternoon.
This was the third day of funerals, the second in Dublin. On Tuesday Eimear Walsh and Eoghan Culligan were laid to rest and on Thursday the funeral of Lorcán Miller will take place.