In memoriam: Notre Dame Trustee and Board Chair Emeritus Andrew McKenna

Author: Dennis Brown

Andy Mckenna

As a youngster, Andrew McKenna was twice stricken with rheumatoid fever. Doctors said his would be a life of quiet passivity. He heard but definitely did not heed those words, living a long and extraordinary life to the fullest and making major contributions to the worlds of business, higher education, athletics, the Catholic Church, philanthropy and more.

McKenna, a University of Notre Dame Trustee and Board Chair Emeritus, died Tuesday (Feb. 7) after a brief illness. He was 93.

Andy McKenna was a tremendously successful businessman and an extraordinary civic leader,” the University’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said. “At Notre Dame, he was a revered Board chair and, for me, a mentor and a treasured friend.”

Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, McKenna was one of six children. His grandfather was a blacksmith, and his father, Andrew J. McKenna Sr., was a first-generation Irish American who worked for, and eventually led, Dunn Coal Co.

McKenna learned the value of hard work and the importance of education from both of them. He held a part-time job through high school and overcame the challenges of his childhood illnesses to gain acceptance to Notre Dame in 1947. He continued working even while in college — delivering flowers, offering tax advice at a currency exchange, teaching in local schools and tutoring. A marketing major, he graduated in 1951 and enrolled in DePaul University’s College of Law, earning his degree three years later.

McKenna decided against a career in law and began work as a salesman with the Schwarz Paper Co. (now Bunzl Retail Services). That proved to be a fruitful partnership for both him and the company. He became president in 1964 and led the firm for more than 50 years.    

McKenna’s business acumen led to other prominent positions in the world of corporate governance. He was appointed to the McDonald’s Corp. board of directors in 1991 and served as the company’s chairman from 2004 to 2016. He also served as a director with Aon, Skyline Corp. and Ryan Specialty Group. He was a part owner and director of the Chicago Bears and also was a past board chair of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs, the only person to have chaired both of the city’s Major League Baseball teams.

McKenna was equally generous in his service to his alma mater. He was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1980 and in 1986 became a member of the Board of Fellows, the governing body composed of six lay members and six priests of Notre Dame’s founding religious community, the Congregation of Holy Cross. The Fellows elect the Trustees, adopt and amend the bylaws and are specifically charged with maintaining Notre Dame’s Catholic character. McKenna chaired Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees from 1992 to 2000 after serving the previous six years as vice chair. He was elected an Emeritus Trustee in 2009.

The University’s conference center is named McKenna Hall in recognition of McKenna and his wife, Joan, for making a generous multimillion-dollar gift for student scholarships. Most recently, the McKennas made a leadership gift to Notre Dame for the establishment of the Andrew J. and Joan P. McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business in the Keough School of Global Affairs.

For his leadership, vision and commitment to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, Notre Dame bestowed upon him an honorary doctor of laws degree and the Laetare Medal, the University’s highest honor. He also received an honorary degree from St. Xavier University.

McKenna’s many civic, community and philanthropic leadership positions included service to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, The Commercial Club of Chicago, Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Big Shoulders Fund of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Lyric Opera, United Way and Chicago Metropolis 2020.

McKenna is survived by five daughters and two sons, four of whom are Notre Dame graduates, as well as 24 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. Joan (nee Pickett) preceded him in death.        

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday (Feb. 11) at Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Catholic Church, 191 Linden St., Winnetka, Illinois. Visitation at the church will precede the funeral from 9 to 11 a.m. A livestream of the funeral Mass will be available here. Click on Live Webcast under the heading Funeral Mass in the Events section.