Notre Dame Wisconsin Football

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, left, daughter Grace, center, and wife Paqui, celebrate Notre Dame's 41-13 win over Wisconsin after an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Chicago.

Brian Kelly is coming from the Fighting Irish to the Fighting Tigers. The football coach’s wife is a fighter, too.

Francisca “Paqui” Kelly has survived two bouts with breast cancer, leading the Kellys to create the Kelly Cares Foundation in 2008, a health and education foundation that has donated nearly $5.8 million to support the fight against breast cancer.

“I didn’t choose to be a cancer patient, but I am so here’s what I can do,” Paqui Kelly said in a 2011 article on the University of Notre Dame website.

Paqui Kelly, 55, met Brian while he was coaching at Grand Valley State University and they married July 2, 1994. They have three children – Patrick, 26; Grace, 22; and Kenzel, 21. Kenzel plays football at Grand Valley State.

In late 2002, following the first of two consecutive NCAA Division II national titles Brian won at GVSU, Paqui, then 37, had a mammogram that revealed lumps that proved to be cancerous, and she had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy the next year. She says the decision to have the mammogram before age 40 probably saved her life. At the time, her family had no history of cancer.

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That would change.

After Paqui’s diagnosis, one of her sisters, sisters, Monie, also was diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2007, Paqui was diagnosed again with breast cancer while Brian, after three years coaching at Central Michigan University, was at the University of Cincinnati. In 2008, Paqui had a double mastectomy, and the foundation was created.

Brian began coaching Notre Dame in December 2009. Paqui often speaks to promote breast cancer awareness and the high cure rate when it’s diagnosed early.

“Brian and I consider ourselves so blessed to have a strong, passionate and committed family and foundation team members to assist us in our life journey that allows us the blessing of helping others in need,” Paqui said in a statement on the foundation website. “Fight like a champion!”


Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.