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placeholder  January 5, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Jim and Jane Gillis in their Rossmoor home. Notre Dame ornaments decorate the fireplace behind them.
MICHELE JURICH/THE CATHOLIC VOICE

Two find their voice in writing stories of Notre Dame

Jim and Jane Gillis met when he was a student at the University of Notre Dame and were married in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus in 1950. You could say their hearts are never far from the campus.

These compelling storytellers, who are parishioners at St. Anne's in Rossmoor, have found their voices as writers, diligently researching the stories, little and big, about the campus where they have endowed a scholarship.

 


'The Cemetery Beneath the Golden Dome'

A History of Cedar Grove Cemetery at the University of Notre Dame 1830 to 2013

Jim & Jane Gillis

Falcon Books, 2013, 101 pp.
 
For a campus full of stories — "how many books have been written about athletics?" Jim Gillis asks — the Gillises found that the story of Cedar Grove Cemetery, which stands near the university entrance, had gone largely untold.

Some people don't even know it's there, Jim Gillis said. When he told a classmate he was writing about Cedar Grove, his classmate asked: Where's that, Jim?

Father Theodore Hesburgh, longtime University president, told them he didn't think the story of the cemetery had been told. The Gillises are proud to point out that Father Hesburgh wrote the forward to their book.

The book is enlivened with vignettes family members offer of those who are interred there. And if you're wondering where the grave of one of the most famous sons of Notre Dame is, the Gillises tell you why you won't find Knute Rockne's grave at Cedar Grove.

Jim Gillis, whose resume includes professional baseball, the FBI and his own broadcasting company, was encouraged to write by his daughter.

"It all started with our daughter, who works at the New York Times," he said. She told him, "You should write a book."

Jim Gillis worked with a friend most mornings on a screened porch. "Son of Notre Dame," with a photo of a first baseman Jim Gillis on the cover, was published in 2005.

He wrote the book for family — that's four children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. That it found a following among his fellow Domers was a bonus.

When he decided to write another book, it had to pass the Jane test. This time, she would be the co-author.

"This book wouldn't have been written without her," he said.

But the first draft didn't meet with his daughter's approval. "When we started writing the book, she said, 'Keep me posted,'" Jim said.

They did. "She didn't like it," he said.

Dad, the journalism major, heeded his daughter. Jim and Jane rewrote. The result found its way into the Christmas catalog for the university bookstore.

Jane has another project on the front burner. "Prominent People of Notre Dame Past and Present Cookbook," which went to their publisher in the fall, includes recipes from University President John Jenkins, CSC, and notable alumni such as Regis Philbin and Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte, as well as both the men's and women's basketball coaches.

Like all good writers, they have a next project in mind. There's another cemetery on campus, the final resting place of Holy Cross brothers and priests. The authors have already begun some research.

Jim Gillis, a California boy, fell in love with Notre Dame in 1934, when he was 7. His father took him to a Notre Dame-USC football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. By the time he walked out of the stadium, the young boy was in love with the sound of the name.

But a World War intervened.

He entered Notre Dame in 1948, where he played baseball. One night, he and a date went to a party organized by a church group. On his arrival, he handed his coat to one of the party organizers.

Jane didn't take it. She directed him to the closet, where he could hang it up himself.

They were married June 5, 1950, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. They spent their honeymoon in Iowa, where he played minor league baseball. They welcomed their first child before his graduation. Then he headed out to play for the Conroe, Texas Wildcats.

Through adventures in sports — including the Philadelphia Phillies, a career with the FBI — there's a photo in the writing room of Jim and Jane and J. Edgar Hoover on Jim's last day with the bureau — and the broadcasting company in Southern California, Jim and Jane's story continued to grow.

And even though their family lives in distant places, they keep in touch in many ways. Among them is by sending family members their books.

Jane tells of a young great-granddaughter, who lives across the continent, recognizing their photo on the back of their latest book and exclaiming to her mother, "That's them! That's them!"

What greater recognition could a writer want?

 
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