U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Lowry
Updated: March 2, 2012 4:18PM
Many students at Christ the King School in Chicago’s Beverly community never met Marine Cpl. Conner Lowry. But they felt as though they knew him.
Sixth-grade teacher Christine McElroy is a friend of Lowry’s family, and had her class write letters and send packages to him in Afghanistan throughout the school year, Pastor Tom Conde said.
They were preparing to send Lowry a package for St. Patrick’s Day, Conde said, so news of Lowry’s death in Afghanistan stunned the community.
Lowry, a 24-year-old graduate of Brother Rice High School, was killed in Afghanistan this week. Parents were notified of Lowry’s death Thursday night so they could prepare their students.
Conde said he visited McElroy’s class Friday morning and prayed with them.
There was a “pervading kindness” in the classroom, he said, with students “ministering to their teacher,” he said.
“She knew Conner since he was a baby and she was always telling her students Conner stories. They felt like the they knew him,” he said.
Lowry also had cousins who attended Christ the King School.
“This affects the whole school,” Conde said.
Lowry reportedly was a gunner on a Humvee when he was killed. The circumstances of his death were not immediately known.
Lowry wanted to fight for his country but understood his mother and siblings back home would worry if they thought he was going to be sent into combat.
On Friday, his mother and younger sister remembered how even as he was getting ready to leave he tried to protect them as best he could, even if it meant saying something he couldn’t possibly believe himself.
“I was pretty upset and he saw that, (so) he said, ‘Grace, don’t worry, I’m just going to guard some gate in Europe, I probably won’t see any combat,’ ” said 17-year-old Grace Lavin.
The family still didn’t know the specifics of what happened except that Lowry, a gunner in a Humvee, was killed Thursday.
According to the Department of Defense, Lowry died while conducting combat operations in Helmand province. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The incident is under investigation.
As family waited for answers they say military representatives might bring with them when they visit their home later in the day, they also hope they will learn during that visit when Lowry’s remains will arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Meanwhile, they talked about how popular he had been, and the young man “more handsome than the day is long,” as his mother, Modie Lavin, put it. And they talked about what he wanted to do with his life.
A lifelong resident of Chicago’s South Side, Lowry, as a boy, was like a lot of the city’s kids, a huge fan of Notre Dame sports, and he couldn’t get enough of Bulls basketball star Michael Jordon.
“His life revolved around Michael Jordan,” Lavin said. “He had Michael Jordan shoes, shorts, socks, everything.”
Lowry’s mother said he was a “decent athlete” who played football at Brother Rice.
He went to college in Iowa and after a couple of years decided to enlist in the Marines with a couple of buddies.
“He thought it would be good for him, he thought it would be good for his country,” she said.
Lavin said she was stunned at the news, saying that hers is not a military family and that she could think of no one who had served.
“I just told him, ‘Please don’t,’” she said.
And yet she watched him turn into “an outstanding Marine,” saying “He got lots of accolades, a big award at Camp Pendleton.”
In the Marines since September 2008 and in Afghanistan since last October, Lowry was just four months from being discharged, his sister said.
“He couldn’t wait to get back home to South Side, Irish Catholic Chicago,” and hopefully get a job as a Chicago firefighter said his mother. “That’s all he talked about.”
On Friday, Brother Rice Principal Jim Antos told the students that someone who once walked the same halls had been killed in Afghanistan — the second student from Lowry’s class to die there in the last two years. Army Sgt. Jared Stanker, of Evergreen Park, was killed in November 2009.
“Kids don’t realize it while they are here, but they touch many lives here,” he said.
Antos, who got to know Lowry at a school retreat and talked to him, sometimes about his own experience in the Army during the Vietnam War, recalled a “good kid.” The two would often talk as Lowry weighed his options about what he wanted to do with his life after high school, Antos said.
“He was a fun kid to be around. He had a little ‘Dennis the Menace’ in him,” but it was all lovingly, he said.
“He came to visit (the school) last spring about this time of year to see a few teachers and I was privileged to be one of them,” Antos said. “He told me he was probably going to be deployed. He was smiling, his life was together.”
Antos said the school once again offered to have the Brother Rice student body serve as an honor guard for Lowry, just as they did with Stanker.
Brother Rice football coach Steve Nye said the fallen Marine was all about serving, sacrifice and commitment.
“He worked hard every day to make himself a better player and to make his team better. He was part of some of our most successful teams,” Nye said of his former lineman. “He had a great sense of humor. He was fun to be around and his attitude was contagious.”
The class of 2006 was one of the closest groups of guys.
“They were always there for each other. Those guys will be there for his family,” Nye said.
Sister Jean McGrath, principal at St. John Fisher School, where Lowry attended from second through eighth grades, said Lowry was “full of life, vim and vigor.”
“It’s a sad day at St. John Fisher,” she said. “We’re a tight-knit community. (His death) touched the community very deeply.
“He had a few rascal qualities, but was very endearing. We became very good friends,” she said with a laugh. “I never forgot him. His heart was as big as he was.”
Lowry, who played basketball and football at St. John Fisher, was one of five students in his eighth-grade class who later joined the military. Perhaps they were inspired by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack that occurred while they were in eighth grade, McGrath said.
The last time she saw Lowry was two years ago when he gave the eulogy at his father’s funeral. At 6-foot-5, he was a “towering presence” in his dress Marine uniform, she said.
“This was a testament to the unconditional love of his mother and stepfather,” McGrath said.
After the funeral, “He hugged me and said, ‘Thank you,’ ” she said. “He was so grateful. That’s a moment I will never forget.”
Lowry is survived by his mother, two sisters and two brothers. Arrangements are pending