By SPECTRUM STAFF
The Sacred Heart University community continues to mourn the loss of a beloved Pioneer.
20-year-old Caitlin Nelson, a sister of Kappa Delta sorority, passed away on Sunday, April 2 at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center three days after collapsing during a pancake-eating contest. A nursing student, an Emergency Medical Techincian (EMT) student and first-responders performed lifesaving measures at the scene, and she was transported to a Bridgeport
hospital in critical condition at the time.
A medical examiner ruled that she died of accidental asphyxia.
Nelson was a junior social work major, and according to the CT Post, “led campus fundraising efforts and volunteered supporting trauma victims, including at Sandy Hook.” It took place at Camp Sea Stars North and the Resiliency Center of Newtown, Conn, where Nelson was an active member, stated in her obituary.
Nelson was also a peer minister at her church and a participant in the Catholic Heart Work Camp as well as Sr. Pat’s Kids Camp.
“Caitlin gave in every aspect of her life, including donating her organs as a final act of giving,” it said.
She was also heavily involved with Kappa Delta, taking on a leadership role as Vice President of Community Service. She was in charge of running their annual philanthropy event, ShamROCK the Runway, which raises money for Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA).
“She was an amazing person and friend. She dedicated her time to charities, campus events and volunteering. She was always the first one to volunteer to help anybody,” said senior Amanda Cruz, sister of Kappa Delta.
On Friday, March 31 President John J. Petillo sent out a message to the university, asking the community to join together in prayer at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
Hundreds of students, faculty, members of the community and Greek Life attended her prayer service and candlelight vigil
following that Sunday evening in remembrance of Nelson.
It was then that President Petillo sent out an email to the university and Sacred Heart parents notifying them of Nelson’s passing.
“The entire Sacred Heart community is sending their sympathy and prayers to Caitlin’s family and friends. She was remembered at a filled-to-capacity Mass and candlelight vigil earlier this evening, and we have lowered the SHU flag to half-staff in her memory,” said Petillo in his email.
Counseling services are still being provided for students and members of Greek Life. President Petillo reflected on the outpouring of support with Nelson’s passing on his blog.
“Many of you who did not know Caitlin, but you consider her family anyway. Here at SHU, when one of us is hurt, we all hurt; when one of us excels, we all celebrate. Whether you knew Caitlin or not, you came together to express your love for her, your love for each other and your love for SHU,” said Petillo in his blog.
He also offered transportation to her visitation and funeral at St. Helen’s Church in Westfield, N.J over the weekend.
“The wake was really a sad moment for her friends and family. Caitlin was one of the nicest girls I have ever had the privilege to meet. I will miss her along with the rest of the Sacred Heart community,” said junior Joseph Durante, a staff writer for The Spectrum.
In light of this tragedy, the Sacred Heart community has come together in support of Nelson’s fundraising goals, raising almost $34,000 for Kappa Delta’s ShamROCK the Runway event.
The new goal is $53,960, in honor of her birthday.
The sorority is also selling bracelets through the Little Words Project that says “Caitlin Gives.” 50 percent of the proceeds will
be donated to their philanthropy event for PCAA. To purchase a bracelet, you can follow the link: https://littlewordsproject.com/products/caitlin-gives
Sacred Heart’s SHUpermen recorded “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to show their solidarity with the community and the sisters of Kappa Delta.
“With the tragic passing of our own, I knew that the community needed something to honor her impact on this campus. It stands as a message that we stand with our community and with Kappa Delta I remembering that one of us truly walk alone when we are surrounded by a family as such,” said junior Cory Robinson, SHUpermen president.
The Theatre Arts Program (TAP) also donated all the profits from student ticket sales of “Jesus Christ Superstar’s” opening night on Thursday, April 6 to Nelson’s ShamROCK the Runway fundraiser. The opening night raised over $2,000 for Kappa Delta.
“It is really special that we were able to do this in the Theatre Arts Program because it made all of the members feel like we were contributing to the SHU community in this time of grieving,” said senior Nicholas Patino, president of TAP.
Overall, Nelson was loved, appreciated, and will be missed by the university, her friends and her loved ones.
“She was an amazing human, with her bubbly and bright personality that everyone will miss dearly,” said Cruz.
If you would like to donate to support Nelson’s fundraising goals, you can go to: https://onlinedonations.us/home/team-view-fundraiser/1598/f
The Associated Press contributed to this article.