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A celebration of ancestors, culture, faith and life itself were at the heart of Dominican University’s commemoration of Día de los Muertos.

Following behind a cross decorated in marigolds, a lively procession of students, faculty, staff and a mariachi band traveled to each of the five ofrendas created on campus during the Nov. 2 Day of the Dead observance. The intricately decorated, colorful ofrendas honoring the dead were blessed by the Rev. Javier Reyes, CMF, university chaplain while students shared reflections and prayer.

This year’s commemoration was entitled “Nuestro Dolor Vivo: Roots de la Lucha,” calling upon the university community to reflect on grief and hope while navigating the world’s current challenges. The ofrendas, designed and decorated by student volunteers, explored themes of war and violence, mental health, migration and cultural intersectionality.

“It’s an expression of our faith and spirituality that are connected to our cultural roots and our identity as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, but it also looks at the broader picture of society and how we can work together for justice in the world,” said Andrew Mercado, associate director of University Ministry, of the university’s commemoration of the holiday. “It’s a nice balance of coming together, remembering our roots and loved ones, and moving forward.”

“This is one of my favorite experiences at Dominican because it’s so collaborative,” added Tara Segal, director of University Ministry. “It’s a moment of what real community is, what it is like to celebrate our culture, our faith together.”

The celebratory nature of the day is a reminder that reflecting on the loss of loved ones does not need to be a sad event, said senior Gloria Goray.

“It can be joyful, colorful and happy too,” she noted.

Observing Día de los Muertos is also another way to stay connected to her culture, Goray said.

“Being an immigrant, a lot of my family is in Mexico, so this is one of the only connections I have where we all celebrate the same people,” she said. “It reinforces a sense of community.”

“It’s a way for everyone to connect with their loved ones who have passed —not just family, but their pets as well,” said Viviana Tellez, a junior who participated in the procession.

“I love seeing how people came together to build these ofrendas and altars all over the school,” she added.

This year’s ofrendas were inspired by those students viewed during a visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. Food, flowers, candles, photographs of the deceased, decorated calaveras and images of the Virgin Mary covered the altars. The largest, adorned in orange and yellow marigolds with a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe perched at the top, was created by University Ministry in the Lewis Alcove.

The other ofrendas were displayed in Rebecca Crown Library, the Center for Cultural Liberation, Parmer Atrium, and the Coughlin Hall Commons.   

The Día de los Mueros organizing team represented Academic Affairs, Mission and Ministry, and Student Success and Engagement.