One year later, Sullivan's legacy lives on

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
2:45
PM ET
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The typical freshman shell was broken, at least temporarily, by the shaggy-haired kid who stopped by 432 Fisher Hall on a late-summer Sunday night three years ago.

Declan Sullivan, across the hall in room 435, tried a most upfront way of breaking the ice with Shane Steinberg, who knew nobody when he arrived on the Notre Dame campus from Flushing, N.Y., in 2008. To make matters worse, Steinberg had strep throat.

[+] EnlargeDeclan Sullivan
AP Photo/Eric EssexFamily and friends greet each other after leaving the funeral Mass for Declan Sullivan on Nov. 1, 2010, at St. Mary Church in Buffalo Grove, Ill.
"Declan popped his head into the room when I was still getting settled that night and was like, 'Hey, do you wanna go to a party?' " Steinberg recalled. "And I was like, 'I have a 103-degree fever.' And he was like, 'Next time.' "

"At that point I thought he was just weird," Steinberg added with a laugh.

Declan Sullivan loved the fact he was thought of as weird. Whether he was screaming "Big money! Big money!" at an ATM in hopes of having cash left, or whether he was leaving a burn mark on the fourth-floor carpet of Fisher from an ironing snafu, his quirkiness was a point of pride. The Film, Television and Theatre major loved "American Beauty," the 1999 Best Picture winner at the Oscars. More specifically, he loved that line from Angela Hayes, Mena Suvari's character, the one that says nothing is worse than being ordinary.

Steinberg and Sullivan wrote for the scene section of The Observer, the student newspaper. Last year Steinberg penned a piece on his friend two days after Sullivan, a videographer for Notre Dame's football team, died when the scissor lift he was filming practice from was blown over. Steinberg made sure to include that line from Hayes in his story, as it described Sullivan perfectly.

"Some cheerleading teams have spirit leaders," Steinberg said. "Basically, he was definitely that type of person. The type of person who would carry a flag of Fisher Hall and put it in a proverbial ground, per se."

On Wednesday, Notre Dame announced it established the Declan Drumm Sullivan Memorial Scholarship, assisting students in financial need who have also demonstrated Sullivan's traits. Fisher Hall will rally around Sullivan on Thursday night, the same way Lewis Hall -- home of Declan's sister, Gwyneth -- will with a private Mass exactly one year after his death.

Christine Hartnett, Sullivan's guidance counselor at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill., said Sullivan played a big role in helping her daughter, Allie, choose to attend Notre Dame, where she is joined by Declan's sister Gwyneth, now a sophomore.

Right before Declan Sullivan graduated high school, he gave Hartnett a hand-written letter, a bouquet of flowers and a copy of his Notre Dame acceptance letter, writing that it was something he never would have obtained without her help.

"When I strike it big doing whatever I'm going to do," one part of the note read, "I'm not sure yet, but it will be awesome. I'll be sure to send you a much bigger bouquet."

After Declan's death last year, seemingly every single quad in Fisher Hall was filled with as many as 20 people, all of whom stayed up until 2 a.m. remembering the shenanigans Sullivan pulled every year at the dorm's annual Regatta or the way he dressed up as Mrs. Claus for a Christmas sweater party.

Fisher residents now wear green bracelets with "D.D.S. 10.27.10" on one end and "Celebrate Life" on the other.

The dorm's annual charity, the roof-sit, raised $4,619 for the Declan Sullivan Memorial Fund this past Sept. 15-17. The fund was established by Sullivan's family to support causes he was most enthusiastic about.

Before Notre Dame's game against USC on Saturday, Declan Sullivan's family joined a group of close to 100 people between the Labar Practice Field and the Guglielmino Athletics Complex for a dedication of a memorial to Declan.

Two benches with quotes from his sister Gwyneth and brother Mac now surround a plaque honoring Declan, featuring a poem written by a family friend. It is in the middle of where the Notre Dame football team walks on its way to and from practice each day.

"Every day when you leave, there's a great way to remember him," said Harrison Smith, the team's captain. "I think that's also something that we'll never forget. He'll always be in our heart."

The spot had served as a meeting place for the Sullivan family after games, and it evoked memories in all who attended this past weekend.

"On Saturday I kind of thought about everything for the first time in a very long time," said Steinberg, who was at the dedication. "I hadn't in a while because life happens, other things happen. You get into a normal groove and the next thing you know, you're reminded of how different things were a year ago, when everything came to a screeching halt."

Steinberg, a film buff himself, remembers Sullivan urging him to watch "Time Out," a 2001 movie from France. Only Sullivan could stomach a movie with subtitles, and six days before his death he stayed in and watched it with Steinberg, who fell asleep halfway through.

"I never got a chance to finish that movie with him, and when I thought about that for the first time, those thoughts went into other thoughts, and who am I gonna talk moves with now or songs with?" Steinberg said. "A lot of people are very similar here, and he was the one friend I can really say was different. And the types of conversations I had with him were different than with other people, and it's that loss that sometimes kind of makes everything less fun."

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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