In search of Rockne's grave

Author: Ed Cohen


Notre Dame has two cemeteries, but the most famous person associated with the University isn’t buried in either.

After Knute Rockne died in a plane crash in Kansas in 1931 his body was brought back to South Bend for burial. He was interred in Highland Cemetery, a few miles west of campus at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Lathrop Street.

Why was Rockne, who was only 43, not buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery at the south end of campus? According to Lewis A. McGann, whose grandfather, Lewis W. McGann, headed the McGann Funeral Home, which handled Rockne’s burial, the decision was made by Rockne’s widow, Bonnie. She wanted to be sure the grave would be cared for in perpetuity, and in those days Cedar Grove didn’t offer that level of service. It was the responsibility of families to cut the grass and otherwise maintain the grave or else pay a maintenance fee. At Highland Cemetery maintenance was included in the price of the plots.

Lewis A. McGann said Mrs. Rockne actually bought the plot from his grandfather, who owned several in the Graceland section of the cemetery, where most of the Catholics were buried. Bonnie Rockne was Catholic, and her husband converted in 1925.

Rockne’s grave isn’t difficult to find. As you enter Highland Cemetery, bear right past the office. In the grass at the first V intersection, you’ll see a memorial marker for the legendary coach. This is not the grave. Rockne’s simple headstone—the corners of which have been chipped off, presumably by souvenir hunters—lies just past the marker and to the right, five rows or about 25 yards back from the road.

Highland cemetery is open 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 to 2 on Saturday, and Sundays by appointment.

No one with the enduring national fame of Rockne lies in Cedar Grove or in the Holy Cross Community Cemetery, above the north shore of Saint Mary’s Lake. But you can find dozens of prominent names there from Notre Dame and South Bend history.

The grave of Notre Dame founder Father Edward Sorin, CSC, lies at the head of the community cemetery in the middle of a row of five superior generals of Holy Cross. Two of the others served as presidents of Notre Dame: Father Andrew Morrissey, CSC, president from 1893-1905, and Father James Burns, CSC, 1919-1922.

All but one of Notre Dame’s 14 deceased presidents are buried in the community cemetery. The exception is Cardinal John O’Hara, CSC, 1888-1960. The order’s first and only cardinal, O’Hara is entombed inside the Basilica.