Billy Fitzpatrick ’20 & Ethan Bachand ’22
Editor-in-Chief; Chief News Editor
On Wednesday, Jan. 15, twelve members of the College of the Holy Cross women’s rowing team were involved in a car accident in Vero Beach, Fla., while the team was training there over winter break. As a result of the accident, Grace Rett, a member of the Class of 2022, tragically passed away. Several others, including other student athletes and head coach Patrick Diggins, were hospitalized. Grace was 20, having celebrated her birthday with her teammates a day earlier.
The Rett family and the Holy Cross community have experienced an outpouring of support from near and far in the past three-plus weeks. In the hours and days following the accident, local Holy Cross alumni in the Vero Beach area offered to help those affected in a number of ways. As Rev. Philip L. Boroughs, S.J., President of the College, later mentioned in an on-campus memorial service, one local alumnus offered up his home and car to any of the affected families who needed lodging or transportation. Additionally, members of the Holy Cross administration, including Fr. Boroughs and Athletics Director Marcus Blossom, immediately flew to Florida to be with the families as they mourned the loss of Grace and comforted those individuals still hospitalized and their families. Members of the Vero Beach community, with no previous connection to Holy Cross, also displayed tremendous generosity in the wake of the accident.
The Holy Cross community across the country summoned a quick and powerful response to the tragedy. Students shared pictures on Instagram and other platforms in a show of solidarity and support for the women’s rowing team. A GoFundMe was created the day of the accident in order to help with the medical and travel expenses for those affected. Within hours, donations poured in as people – both from within and outside of the Holy Cross community – contributed to the fund. At the time of this writing, the total amount raised exceeded $270,000.
A week after the accident, a funeral mass was held on Wednesday, Jan. 22, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Uxbridge, Mass., where the Retts are parishioners. The pastor, Rev. Nicholas Desimone, Class of 2004 from the College, presided over the Mass. The family requested that students and community members wear school colors and athletic team uniforms to celebrate Grace’s joyful personality and dedication to the women’s rowing team. A sign outside the church displayed one of Grace’s favorite Bible verses, which she also had tattooed on her arm. It comes from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
St. Mary’s Church was full with members from both the Holy Cross community and her home community of Uxbridge. The processional hymn at the beginning of the service was “Amazing Grace.” Grace’s younger sister, Brianne, offered beautiful words of remembrance, while Grace’s mother, Mary Jo, performed a musical piece.
Two days later, on Friday, Jan. 24, the College held a memorial service for Grace in the St. Joseph Memorial Chapel. The Mass was celebrated by Fr. Boroughs. Family, friends, teammates, students, faculty, staff, administration, and other community members filled the chapel and Seelos Theater, where a live video simulcast of the Mass was shown. Fr. Boroughs celebrated Grace’s life and legacy with a moving homily. In a comment later made to the Spire, he said of Grace: “Grace was a loving daughter and sister, a dedicated athlete and student, a leader among her peers, and a young woman of deep faith. We were blessed to have her as part of our Holy Cross community, and I expect her example will live in our hearts for a long time.”
Family and friends have commented that one of Grace’s most defining qualities was her determination. Committed to excellence, Grace was the only 12-season varsity athlete in her high school class, playing basketball in the winter and rowing in the fall and spring all four years. She did this all while remaining deeply committed to her academics, earning the designation of AP Scholar with Honor.
As many in the Holy Cross community have come to know about Grace, her high school accomplishments only served as a precursor to the heights she would reach on Mount St. James. As she did in all things, Grace gave entirely of herself to the women’s rowing team, displaying an unmatched work ethic and commitment to her teammates and coaches. Her pursuit of excellence was on display this past December, when she set a world record for her age group for consecutive hours rowed indoors, at a whopping 62 hours and three minutes.
While nobody will forget Grace’s athletic or academic achievements, loved ones have spoken extensively about who she was as a daughter, sister, teammate, and friend. Grace was awarded the women’s rowing team’s “unsung hero” award as a first-year, an apt reflection of her selflessness and commitment to others. A woman of faith, Grace was a regular at weekly Athlete Bible Study meetings. She channeled her love for Holy Cross by giving tours with the Office of Admissions. She worked with the Sports Media Department by operating live stream cameras, and was such a consistent supporter of Holy Cross athletics that teammates and friends have created a makeshift memorial for her in the bleachers of the ice hockey arena at the Hart Center, where she spent countless hours cheering on her fellow Crusaders. Grace was selected as a Montserrat leader to mentor incoming first-year students, performed with the Liturgical Choir, served as a resident assistant, and had recently joined the women’s club basketball team, as well. Grace made an indelible impact on the campus of Holy Cross and her memory will live on through the countless hearts she touched on Mount St. James.
In the days after the accident, rowing teams from across the country showed their love and support. Programs such as Clemson and Duke shared pictures of their teams wearing purple in honor of Grace and those involved in the accident. The social media activity caught on quickly, as hundreds of teams at every level from every corner of the country joined in showing their support on Instagram. Some teams went further, contributing generously to the GoFundMe.
Speaking about the community support over the past couple of weeks, Patricia Kramer, Dean of the Class of 2022, said to the Spire, “Everybody is affected by this tragedy in different ways, some more deeply than others, but everybody has felt it. People have come together as a community to grieve, and we are grieving in very different ways. But the outpouring of support has been amazing, and I think that’s what people see.”
On Monday, Jan. 27, the College of the Holy Cross website provided an update that all other members of the accident that had been hospitalized in Florida have since been released. The College continues to pray for the healing of all who were affected, including the driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident.
As students and faculty headed back to campus following the tragedy, one of the main concerns of the college was adequately addressing the needs of a shaken community. Through multiple emails and events, the administration has made clear that every resource is available. This includes the Counseling Center and the Office of the College Chaplains, where students are encouraged to schedule appointments with counselors or chaplains.
There are also resources available on the academic side. As Dean Kramer points out, “The Class Deans are trying to do the academic piece. Anything that’s impacting [students’] ability to be in the classroom, to be successful. We’re the point person for all of that. But there are so many other sources of support on the campus and we want to make sure people have those.”
At the Jan. 24 memorial service at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel, purple bracelets were passed out with one of Grace’s favorite mottos inscribed on them: “Love the Fight.” While this mantra honors Grace’s memory, it also serves as a message that she would want her loved ones to carry with them wherever they go; one of strength, compassion, and optimism that will never be forgotten.
Photos by Hui Li ’21 and Avanell Brock.