DALLAS — When she was a child in the early 1930s, Rose Kunkle McCann played with legendary Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne’s kids.
Later in life, she was the babysitter hired by Frank Leahy, who played and coached for the Irish.
The land owned by her family — 1130 E. Bulla Road in South Bend, Ind. — later became part of the Notre Dame campus.
In fact, the back of “Touchdown Jesus” now resides there. The mural was installed in 1964 on the Hesburgh Library, the mosaic wall looms over the stadium, resembling the raised arms of a referee signifying a touchdown.
And, oh yeah, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who the library is named after, was the president of Notre Dame at the time and a friendly acquaintance of the Kunkle family.
These are just some of the “Irish connections” between the University of Notre Dame and the Kunkle and McCann families.
So it’s no wonder that when the children of Rose Kunkle McCann were recently interviewed they all showed up in Notre Dame jerseys and posed in front of a mural of Notre Dame Stadium and, of course, Touchdown Jesus.
The McCann siblings — Martin, 55, Wilkes-Barre; John, 51, Swoyersville; Margaret, 49, Kingston; and Tim, 47, Shavertown — talked about their Irish-rooting and rooted family. Absent were brothers and sisters: Robin, 59, Massachusetts; Mary, 57, New Jersey; Matt, 54, Quebec; and Mark, 52, Connecticut.
“It’s inbred in us,” Margaret said. “Notre Dame is just a very big part of our lives.”
They talked about their grandfather, Bert Kunkle, who worked as a carpenter at Notre Dame for 20 years. The university asked Bert to supervise the building of the Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend, and he supervised carpenters who worked on the construction of the football stadium.
The McCanns’ uncle, Bruce Kunkle, came to Wilkes-Barre when King’s College was founded. King’s is affiliated with Notre Dame through the Holy Cross Brothers.
Rose worked at King’s College for nearly 20 years, until 1995.
Tim said the McCann brand of Irish loyalty goes far beyond rooting for the football team. Notre Dame, he said, is a part of their family and the McCanns are part of the Notre Dame family.
Tim and his wife, Shelley — who by the way is a distant cousin of legendary Irish quarterback Joe Montana — have two boys, Colin, 7, and Brady, 4, who is named after Brady Quinn, another standout ND signal caller.
“We call Brady ‘Bam,’” his father said. “So when he’s a linebacker at Notre Dame, he will be called ‘Bam’ McCann.”
Colin said he’s still deciding whether he will pursue a football path.
But the kids get their Irish passion from their mom, Rose, who passed away in 1995 at the age of 68. Her husband, Francis, died in 1997 at 71.
John said he would call his mother every Saturday when Notre Dame would score its first points of the game. When she died, the family sent a letter to Coach Lou Holtz, asking that the team point to the sky after the first points were scored in its 1996 bowl game.
Although a team member did point to the sky after the games’ first score, it wasn’t to fulfill the McCann family request. Holtz however, did respond to the letter with kind words about Rose and the McCann family, telling them how important they are to the university.
The kids talked about Rose and how she would tell stories about all of the Irish players she knew and hung around with — names like Johnny Lattner, Frank Leahy, Jim Martin, Ed “Moose” Krause, Johnny Lujack, Zygmont “Ziggy” Czarboski and many others. They were her friends and she loved talking about them.
“She also loved the way people dressed up for games back then,” Margaret said. “Those stories are part of our family’s heritage.”
Rose and Francis had eight children — five boys and three girls — and 11 grandchildren, ranging in age from 4 to 26.
The McCanns hope to make a family pilgrimage to South Bend.
“The first time we were there, Tim was like a kid in a candy store,” Shelley said. “He wanted to visit all of the places his mom talked about.”
“With such a history and memory of Notre Dame,” Tim said, “I believe she is up in heaven with all of the greats, watching and cheering for every game.”
The Fighting Irish play Rutgers Saturday in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The McCanns will be watching and cheering.