Alvernia lost a promising young double alumnus last month. In the early days of this too-freezing winter, Bryan Otruba succumbed to his courageous battle against leukemia. No death is without sadness, and the premature passing of someone so young brings an especially acute sense of loss. Bryan’s death ended his suffering but brought much pain to family, friends, and many in and beyond the Alvernia community. Yet I write not to mourn his passing but to celebrate the many lives he touched here at Alvernia . . . and, equally, the many ways that this special community touched and transformed his life.
Bryan earned both undergraduate (2008) and graduate (2013) degrees from Alvernia. He met his best friend here and married Camille in our main chapel, Sacred Heart, in the convent of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters. At his and Camille’s request, the viewing was held there. The chapel and the university were special to them, individually and together. A great couple, with smiles to match, they epitomized “Knowledge Joined with Love”—the heart of a Franciscan education. Alvernia nurtured Bryan’s lovefor Camille and helped make him the man he became.
Bryan was a leader in campus ministry—a student campus minister and, later, a graduate assistant on the staff. Sunday night Mass was an important part of his Alvernia experience, along with the Alternative Break program. His initial trip to our Sisters’ mission in the Dominican Republic was life-changing. He became one of their first Volunteers in Mission, later serving at their school in Santo Domingo. Former campus ministry staff travelled back to Reading from as far away as Columbus, Ohio, to gather at the wake and funeral, where they were joined by Sisters and others who were part of that mini-community. Alvernia nurtured Bryan’s faith and his spirituality and helped make him the man he became.
Bryan and Camille were both members of the Honors Program, both exceptional students in their quiet, unassuming way. Camille was surrounded at the viewing by former roommates and friends as well as some of her fellow nursing and Honors students. Faculty and staff members were there too—from Nursing, Education, Honors, University Life, and other areas. A special education major, Bryan became a devoted teacher locally to students with special needs. Without question, Alvernia nurtured Bryan’s intellectual and professional development and helped make him the man he became.
Bryan was an RA, active in campus life, and a serious and responsible leader. Staff and administrators knew and respected him. He was also something of a goofball. At his viewing, Sacred Heart Chapel was filled with pictures of his Halloween costumes. Bryan and Camille as characters in the Wizard of Oz was my favorite. In their years at Alvernia, they attracted a large circle of fun-loving, life-long friends, many of whom returned to campus to comfort Camille and each other.
The mischievous, playful side of Bryan may be part of the reason he was drawn to Pacelli’s Orphans, our theater program. But I think another important reason was that he found in theater another mini-community. At least a dozen of our former theater students were on hand, exchanging stories, memories of performances, anecdotes about their friend and fellow actor. It was heartwarming to witness the close bonds they had formed while together in college. Clearly, Alvernia nurtured Bryan’s creativity and personality (and capacity for friendship!) and helped make him he man he became.
Bryan Otruba loved Alvernia and embraced the many opportunities to be involved in the academic, cultural, religious, and social life of the campus. He and Camille found here not only a caring and challenging community but many smaller communities and groups that became special to them. Campus Ministry. The RA program. Nursing. Teacher Education. Honors. Theater. Roomates.
It is not surprising--but so appropriate--that Camille and the entire family wished to return to campus. Bryan (and she) made such a positive impact on so many at the university. They made a difference during their years here. And in turn, Alvernia made a lasting, positive impact on their lives, in ways they could not ever have imagined.
At Alvernia, our students’ education is based on relationships—with faculty, staff, and fellow students. Such relationships shape each student’s active engagement—in collegiate life, in and beyond the classroom, on and beyond the campus. Put another way, we recognize—and value--the power of communities, large and small. That is at the heart of this special place that is Alvernia—“A Distinctive Franciscan University.”
Bryan will be missed by many, but in his story there are some inspirational lessons for us all.
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn