'Our sense of belonging is what supports us' - Berkeley victims remembered by Irish community in poignant San Francisco service
The Irish community in San Francisco and the Bay Area gathered at 7pm local time last night at a ceremony at St. Columba’s Church in Oakland to celebrate the lives of the six students who died following a balcony collapse in Berkeley one year ago today.
The anniversary mass was held in memory of Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Ashley Donohoe, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh, who were fatally injured in the tragic accident, as well as to pray for the continued recovery of the survivors, Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Jack Halpin, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters.
Mass celebrant, Fr. Aidan McAleean, welcomed the congregation, which included some of this year’s J1 students as well Ashley Donohue’s mother, Jackie, her family and friends, to remember ‘this tragic moment in the lives of so many of us one year ago.’
Volunteers and staff and the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, who offered assistance and support to the bereaved last year, carries six lighted candles to the altar to remember those who died.
Philip Grant, the Consul General in San Francisco and the Mayor of Berkeley, Tom Bates did the first and second readings from the Book of Ezra and the Book of Revelation, while Steve Welch, the San Francisco funeral director who looked after the grieving families last year, and former Consul General, Niamh Ryan read prayers of the faithful.
Executive Director of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, Celine Kennelly, sang two songs written by Irish priest, Liam Lawton, ‘Cloud’s Veil’ and ‘There is a Place’.
In his sermon, Fr. Brendan McBride of the Irish Immigration Pastoral Center in San Francisco, spoke of the turmoil and sadness that followed the tragedy, of how there was a sense of lives being turned upside down but in the midst of the sorrow came a sense of belonging, and of how the support and kindness of the Irish community in San Francisco and the Bay Area helped the bereaved through a difficult time.
“Life is a journey and our sense of belonging is what supports us,” he said.
“Today we think of the bereaved and the emptiness that’s with them. There are our friends. They came to San Francisco and the Bay Area as strangers, they left as friends. A tragedy such as this changes us all and the change may be to cherish those whom we love more deeply.
The congregation then all joined hands in a show of solidarity and strength, which was followed by a slide show of photographs of happier times of those who died were projected on the church walls.
In a final address to the congregation, Philip Grant spoke of the spirit of friendship of the J1 community, and how the Irish community in Berkeley and the Bay Area love to ‘hear their voices each year’.