A Gifted Life: John P. Hickey, Sr.

How many of us are fortunate enough to live a fulfilling life of 90-plus years, surrounded by a loving family…and also cross paths with two of the most legendary figures in the history of American athletics?

Such was the life of John Patrick Hickey, who is being buried today from Wellesley, Mass.

John Hickey and his seven siblings grew up in South Bend in a home on St. Vincent Street built by his father, Thomas Hickey. In fact, Tom Hickey’s construction company built many structures in the area, a number of them on the campuses of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s.

He also built a pair of homes next door to each other on St. Vincent – one occupied by his family, the other by the growing family of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

John Hickey, with his wife Mary and son John Jr., at their Dover, Mass., home in 2010.

John Hickey, with his wife Mary and son John Jr., at their Dover, Mass., home in 2010.

The Rocknes and Hickeys were close in many ways. The coach would often take a break from his own whirlwind schedule by throwing a football around with the Hickey boys – John and his brothers. When Rockne converted to Catholicism in 1925, it was Tom Hickey who sponsored him as his godfather.

Even after the Rocknes moved to their new home on East Wayne Street in 1929, the coach was a frequent visitor at the Hickeys. On the final night of his life, March 30, 1931, before starting a trip that ended in disaster in Kansas, there was the great coach, wrestling with the lively Hickey lads on their living room floor.

Several years later, John Hickey was a top student and prominent athlete at South Bend’s Central High School. There, he played basketball and baseball under the tutelage of another rising young coach, John Wooden. The coach was so impressed by young Hickey that he made sure Hickey rode with Wooden and his family on car trips to away games (back before buses were common for athletic teams). Wooden wanted to make sure his young children had a positive role model.

Hickey, whose own father had found great success in life despite limited formal education, became one of many from his family to stay close to home and attend the University of Notre Dame. He was a varsity baseball player, and in 1943 earned the Byron V. Kanaley Award, given to the top Notre Dame senior scholar-athlete.

Following exemplary military service, Hickey earned an MBA from Harvard, had a successful career in retailing, and raised a family that continued its ties with Notre Dame. He and his wife Mary made numerous pilgrimages to Fatima, Portugal and his life’s work included spreading the blessings received there.

Throughout his own life, the impact of the two coaching legends he knew as a youngster was always present. He reached out to make others’ lives better. Now he is at rest.

View John P. Hickey’s obituary