Skip to comments.KENNEDY'S SECRET DEVOTION: IS IT TRUE HE WENT TO CONFESSION THAT DAY IN DALLAS?
Posted on 11/22/2003 9:03:21 PM PST by Salvation
KENNEDY'S SECRET DEVOTION: IS IT TRUE HE WENT TO CONFESSION THAT DAY IN DALLAS?
By Michael H. Brown
We all have the memories, the motorcade, the shots ringing out, the riderless horse, the chill winds of November.
It was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy forty years ago this week and even those who weren't alive have the memories by way of all the footage that has been endlessly replayed. Who was this man? Why did it occur? What were the spiritual connotations?
This is what we are exploring for the next two days and we can start by saying that in a word, those connotations, as do other aspects of this great trauma, remain mysterious. From the outset, let's make it clear that John F. Kennedy was not a saint. We all know the rumors. Spiritually, there was much behind the scenes. It was not the first Kennedy tragedy. And it was not to be the last.
But America's first and only Catholic president, it appears, at least at times, was serious about his faith. Behind the scenes, he and Jacqueline hinted at deep but private devotions. While Kennedy later became notorious as an alleged womanizer, and was said to have plotted the assassination of foreign leaders, there was also a spiritual side that has never been fully portrayed and which we would now like to look at more closely.
Let's start with the rumors. Most interesting among these is that Kennedy quietly had his Confession heard and attended a small private Mass on November 22, 1963, the morning of his assassination. Such was related to us recently by a nun we respect who says she was told this by sisters who at the time were on the scene, along with a priest who was involved. If true it would be one of the most spectacular elements of the entire drama: a freewheeling president taking the time to clear the spiritual air, as if sensing his fate. Could it be true? Is there anything whatsoever to such a claim?
We checked with Daniel Landregan, who is archivist for the Dallas archdiocese and who, ironically, was an assistant administrator at Parkland Memorial Hospital at the time, witnessing the arrival of Kennedy after he was shot. "He started the morning in Fort Worth," recalls Landregan of the president. "There was a breakfast in Fort Worth. He arrived in Dallas at Love Field at about noon, immediately got into the car that he was in at the time he got hit, and so I can tell you without any hesitation or doubt that [Confession and the alleged Mass] did not happen in Dallas."
Landregan recalls the scene at the hospital -- and the fact that Kennedy received a final blessing. "I was very much involved with the president when he was brought into the emergency room," says Landregan. "I can tell you that he was anointed conditionally at Parkland by a Vincentian, Father Oscar Huber, who was pastor of Holy Trinity Church, and he anointed the president conditionally. In other words, you conditionally anoint them if there may be life in the body. The president was moribund when he was brought in -- the death process had started and was irreversible -- but at what moment death actually occurred, no one really knows."
Father Huber came, went into the trauma room, recalls Landregan, and conducted the anointing as Jacqueline joined him. A second priest, Father Thomas Kane, a Dominican, also appeared at the hospital to assist. Neither priest was called but responded spontaneously when they heard the news. By this time, of course, it was too late for Confession.
But had Kennedy received any of the sacraments earlier in the day -- in Fort Worth -- or on a previous stop in Houston?
Kennedy spent his last night in Room 850 of Fort Worth's Hotel Texas. According to the rumor we heard, he quietly contacted local nuns, possibly Sisters of St. Joseph, to arrange Confession and attend a private Mass. But a search of the archives does not indicate the existence of Sisters of St. Joseph in the area at that time. There were Ursuline, Carmelite, Missionary Catechists of the Sacred Heart, Dominicans, and other orders, but no St. Joseph nuns in the 1963 Catholic Directory of the Dallas diocese, which at the time covered Forth Worth.
Moreover, there is no indication of the president slipping off to Mass in the reams of reportage about the historic event. According to accounts, Kennedy arose around 7:30 a.m., showered, addressed a crowd in a nearby square after eight, and then spoke at a breakfast just after nine in the hotel's grand ballroom.
But here it gets more interesting. It is the event that may have spawned the rumors. For during breakfast a local priest, Monsignor Vincent Wolf of Holy Family Church, gave an envelope to catering manager Peter Sacu to bring to the president. In the envelope was a note that read: "We, the school children, the nuns and priests of Holy Family Church in Fort Worth, are happy to offer one thousand Masses for the spiritual and temporal welfare of you and your family, and to show our love and devotion to the President of the United States."
Were these nuns and these Masses what were later confused with the president actually attending one? Or could it be that Kennedy -- who was known to have made eye contact with Monsignor Wolf and nodded his thanks -- somehow arranged for the priest to hear his Confession in the presidential suite immediately afterwards? From 9:55 to 10:40 a.m., Kennedy and his wife had quiet time waiting to go to the airport for the quick hop to Dallas. During that period Kennedy made at least one phone call and met for some length of time in his suite with aide Ken O'Donnell. There are no records of a priest slipping into the room, although neither can such be ruled out of the realm of possibility. During the breakfast, Kennedy had made a point of showing Jackie the note from Monsignor Wolf. She too had looked down the table and smiled her thanks to the priest. Was there further contact after breakfast?
A prelate who knew Kennedy well, Archbishop Philip Hannan, now of New Orleans but at the time auxiliary bishop in Washington -- and the one who gave the eulogy at Kennedy's historic funeral -- told Spirit Daily that he never heard anything about the president receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation that day, although he wouldn't rule it out. Kennedy, says the archbishop -- who had served as an adviser since the president's days as a congressman -- was "absolutely a practicing Catholic" who prayed, attended Mass when he could, and had worries about the trip to Dallas.
"The big time he showed his faith was in the visit to Mexico City," notes the retired archbishop, who, though now 90, still directs a Catholic media organization. The archbishop recalls that as soon as Kennedy had known he was going to go to Mexico City, he had contacted Hannan to help with arrangements, particularly keeping a planned visit to the Basilica of Guadalupe as low key as possible. He didn't want to be marched up the aisle and seated in the sanctuary -- as had happened during a visit at a cathedral in Europe.
"He said, 'I don't want that to happen at all,'" recalls Hannan of the president, before the visit to this spot where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531. "He said, 'Do you know anybody down there, a cardinal, so you can steer me out of that?' I told him I did know one of the bishops and so we had it fixed that they would not greet him at the entrance of the cathedral at Guadalupe. When he went there, there was a bigger crowd than when he entered the city and went through the city with the president of Mexico."
The fact that Kennedy would choose to visit this shrine is testimony to some kind of affinity for the Blessed Mother. Indeed, his mother Rose often attended daily Mass in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and brother Robert was to die with Rosary beads in his hands. Once, says Hannan, Bobby threw all the possessions of a school room-mate out a window when that room-mate covered up a crucifix or religious picture Bobby had placed in the room. When John was a congressman and senator, he even served as an usher, taking up the Sunday collection.
But did he have his confession heard on the day in question -- November 22, 1963?
"Jackie didn't tell me that, so I don't know," says Archbishop Hannan, adding, however, that there were the deep concerns about the political climate in Texas. "He had been warned about being in Dallas by a number of top Democrats, especially Adlai Stevenson," recalls the archbishop. "He and others had warned him that they had heard a lot of real bad talk and that it was dangerous for him to go there. Jackie knew when she married him that there would be the possibility of him being assassinated," adds Hannan, who possesses never-published letters from the former First Lady.
Could this alleged foreboding -- these rumors -- have led the Catholic president to have secretly requested Confession? Was this really something Kennedy might have done? "It sure could have been," says Archbishop Hannan. "It sure could have been, because he was told that he was in danger."
According to the archbishop, Kennedy participated in the sacraments throughout his presidency, attending Mass except when travel made it difficult. "When he was outside the city, sometimes he would go to Mass, sometimes he wouldn't," notes Hannan. "He prayed. Jackie spoke to me privately about his faith, saying that, yes, he really did believe in the faith. I had been in conversation with him since he was a congressman. My dealings and consultations with him had always been secret. He wanted it that way and above all I wanted it that way because I never wanted to be tabbed as a guy who could get an interview with the president for somebody and so on. I kept it strictly private."
Jacqueline also had a quiet devotion. According to other sources, she was known to visit a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, Maryland (a short ways from Camp David) and had arranged with Hannan to have daughter Caroline properly instructed in the faith. As youths, the Kennedy boys were brought to Rome and raised with a high regard for the religion, says Hannan. "And John Kennedy absolutely kept it. There's no doubt about it. He was a practicing Catholic at the end. I absolutely know that he went to church."
So could it be that he may have wanted to attend Mass or at least have his Confession heard on the day of his assassination -- with rumors of danger swirling? It seems that in the zillions of words written in the past four decades, something of this would have come out. If it did happen, perhaps it was Monsignor Wolf, already elderly back in 1963, who took the secret to his grave. Likely? Unlikely? There is one last mystery. In Italy, the famous mystic Padre Pio, since canonized, was said to have broken down and wept at news of the assassination. When a fellow priest, Padre Aurelio, equally distressed, asked him to pray for the dead president's salvation, Padre Pio reportedly replied: "It's not necessary. He's already in paradise."
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CONTROVERSIAL NOTION OF FAMILY 'CURSES' IS PUT TO THE TEST IN THE CASE OF KENNEDY
Is there really such thing as a "generational curse"? Do family trees need healing and deliverance? It's a controversial notion gaining currency among both priests and the laity: that misfortune, illness, and even spirits can be passed down through the generations.
Experts assert that such is especially seen in families plagued by afflictions like psychological disorders, alcoholism, accidents, and suicide. In this regard we recommend the work of both Father John Hampsch and Father Robert DeGrandis.
The argument is that sins from the past -- from forefathers -- or other brushes with evil can allow in a darkness that visits to at least the third or fourth generation, if such a curse is not broken. In the case of the Kennedys, there had been a history of bootlegging and involvement in unsavory business deals. Whether or not this led to a curse, it's impossible to deny the family's bad "luck," which is truly (and probably inexplicably) stunning. Start with JFK's older brother Joseph. He was killed when his bomber, laden with explosives, blew up over the English Channel. A sister, Kathleen Agnes, died in a plane crash just four years later, in 1948. Another sister, Rosemary, was born retarded and given a lobotomy. JFK was shot to death, of course, on November 22, 1963, in one of America's greatest tragedies. Before that, he barely survived when a boat he was assigned to during the war, the PT-109, was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. His brother Teddy was critically injured in a plane crash the year after the assassination -- and then was involved in the fatal crash that killed a woman named Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. Robert was shot to death in Los Angeles.
Both John and Bobby had their good points, but were also playing fast and loose with life. It is as if their protection was dismantled.
These are just immediate siblings. What about their children? Here it becomes even harder to deny something beyond the usual at work. John and Jacqueline Kennedy suffered the heartbreak of a stillborn, and then the traumatic death of a son named Patrick who was less than a week old when he died August 9, 1963 -- just months before the assassination. Another son, John Jr. -- eternally famous for his heart-breaking salute at his father's funeral -- died in a plane crash in 1999. Pieces of the wreckage floated up on a Martha's Vineyard beach where Jackie once had a home. Martha's Vineyard is also where Chappaquiddick is located.
Children of other Kennedys have also had their struggles. One of Bobby's children, David Anthony Kennedy, died Aug. 25, 1984, in Palm Beach of a drug overdose in a hotel near the family vacation home. Another named Michael died in 1997 in a skiing accident. One of JFK's sisters had a son who went on trial for rape. Meanwhile, Teddy Kennedy had a son who lost a leg to cancer. Another was treated for cocaine addiction.
This is not to judge. It is to recognize how misfortune can operate in our lives. And it is to consider the remedies. Frequent prayer, fasting, and Mass can break runs of bad "luck." We especially recommend asking a priest to place the names of family members on the altar during Mass, if there seem to be unusual problems. When we stray from God's protection, we find ourselves in grief and turmoil. Is there mercy? This too is hinted at with the Kennedys, for whom we should pray, especially this weekend. Ironic it is that JFK was born in 1917, the year of Fatima, at precisely 3:00 p.m., the hour of mercy.
KENNEDY AND CATHOLICISM: LITURGY IN D.C. HIGHLIGHTED DRAMA OF HIS ASSASSINATION
By Michael H. Brown
They had chosen St. Matthews Church, instead of the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, because Jackie could walk there from the White House, accompanying the caisson and the casket that held her husband. It was forty years ago this week, and as the world watched -- as it was riveted -- the first and only Catholic First Family resorted in their grief to their religion.
No one who was alive will forget the drama of the moment, which culminated in an old rite Mass celebrated by Cardinal Richard Cushing, Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle, and Auxiliary Bishop Philip Hannan of Washington, a personal friend and consultant of the president.
Kennedy, despite his roguish ways, had a streak of devotion inspired by mother Rose -- a daily communicant -- and so did his wife, who in Dallas had prayed with a priest as he administered the last anointing. That Catholicism proved to be a thread that ran throughout an incredible three days. At Parkland Memorial Hospital minutes after the shooting, the priest, a Vincentian named Oscar Huber, had opened a black bag, extracted holy oils and cotton batting, along with a prayer book, and putting a thin stole around his neck set about blessing the dead or dying president. "I absolve you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost," the priest had intoned, lifting his eyes to that part of Kennedy's head that was missing.
Did the sacrament count? No one was sure. Extreme Unction -- as it was then known -- was not valid if the soul had departed. Father Huber sensed that Kennedy's soul was still there. "Through this anointing, may God forgive you whatever sins you may have committed," he had prayed. Through a faculty granted by the Holy See he dispensed remission of sins and a plenary indulgence.
Jackie had watched the entire blessing, praying herself. Though in shock -- in unmentionable agony -- the contours of her face tamed every shadow. "Father," the obviously frightened First Lady had asked, "do you think the sacraments had effect?"
Yes, Father Huber assured her.
"Father, please pray for Jack," she had added.
Then it had been on to Washington and the funeral Mass.
Bishop Hannan, still alive at 90, in New Orleans, vividly remembers it. According to historical accounts, Jackie wanted Hannan to read the eulogy and he was informed of this at midnight the night before the incredible funeral.
It was a ceremony that would be attended by representatives of more than ninety countries, along with every prominent politician in Washington. A pontifical requiem Mass. Hannan, who had flown in from Rome, where he was attending Vatican Two, had no time to get nervous. "I said of course I would do it," he told Spirit Daily. "Archbishop O'Boyle got the message and said Jackie insisted that I give the sermon. Sargent Shriver had called O'Boyle to convey this and I said okay but that I wanted to have someone from the State Department give me a list of leading dignitaries so that I could observe the right protocol. I was supposed to meet the guy the next morning at 10:30 in the sacristy of the cathedral. I was there and the guy said, 'I don't have any list. We've been overwhelmed. We haven't kept any list. So many came that we didn't know were coming. All I can tell you is stand up there in front of the church -- you're going to receive the body anyway -- and just watch the chief guests as they come, and remember that.'"
Thus was it the job of this auxiliary bishop to compose a salutation by feverishly searching all the faces.
Hannan had known the Kennedys for years, since Jack was a congressman. They had spoken on the phone and even debated issues like socialism. It was Bishop Hannan who had been up there on the stand for Kennedy's Inauguration -- greeted there personally by JFK -- and had helped arrange for daughter Caroline to receive religious instruction. It was Hannan to whom Kennedy turned for advice that was Catholic. "When he was going to see the Pope, I told him not to genuflect and kiss his ring, because the Protestants would put a real spin on that," recalls Hannan. Was there a curse? "The risk-taking was just in their blood," says the prelate.
This was a Catholic family. An imperfect one, yes, but from all indications, it went beyond simple cultural heritage. Kennedy carried a money clip engraved with an image of St. Christopher and when he died bore in his a pocket a note from a priest who that morning had let him know that Masses were being said for him. He thought that important enough to show to Jackie. Perfect? Hardly. But concerned with the rituals of the faith. At their very wedding, John and Jackie had received a special blessing from Pope Pius XII. ("Holy Father on occasion of marriage cordially imparts Honorable John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy his paternal apostolic blessing in pledging enduring Christian happiness in married life.")
When their newborn Patrick died just months before the assassination, the president had been alone in a private chapel with Boston's Cardinal Cushing, weeping as he clutched the tiny coffin.
Now, that Catholicism was to anoint him in his own death.
Bishop Hannan was ready to stand before one of the largest audiences in the history of the world up to that point and had no time to even configure a list of those he should mention. There were people like Emperor Haile Salasie. There was the queen's husband, wearing a sword. There was French President Charles DeGaulle. There was of course the new president, Lyndon B. Johnson. "An usher put Eisenhower and Truman in a side pew -- not even in the center aisle -- so of course I didn't see them and so I didn't acknowledge them, but they didn't take any umbrage," recalls the retired archbishop after all these years.
Hannan got through it because he knew the routine from handling other Washington events as auxiliary -- he often had dealt with foreign guests -- and he simply fell back on that protocol. The homily was just eight to ten minutes with the world watching. "Jackie didn't want long," he says. "She didn't want a High Mass, either."
At this time, the world still stood. Millions poured into their own churches. Buses stopped in tribute. Subways ground to a halt. Trains stopped on trestles. In Greece, in Rome, in London, traffic came to a halt.
It wasn't high Mass, but it was enough, the eulogy composed in large part with the president's own words. "President Kennedy was fond of quoting the Bible," noted Hannan in the sermon. "At the last dinner of his life in Houston, Texas, last Thursday night, he applied to a friend, as it should be applied to him, this combination of passages from the Proverbs and the prophecy of Joel: 'Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And where there is no vision the people perish."
There were quotes from Ecclesiastes. There were quotes from his inauguration. America, entering the steep curve of the Sixties, would never quite recover. Evil was in the air.
Along with the drama.
"The most poignant moment was the salute given by John John, but what they missed was that there were about 10,000 people on the other side of the street and when John John made that salute, they all burst into tears," recalls the archbishop. "Nobody got that picture. That picture would have been the quintessential weeping picture of the whole event."
And Hannan's last words in his eulogy? Again, a quote from the deceased president -- who many believe sought Confession just before his death. "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own," he himself had once said and now Hannan read.
No, of course not; we can't be a judge in any circumstance.
According to a rumor I heard, Bat Boy is in love.
What a silly notion. Why would he call a bunch of nuns if he wanted to go to confession? If I wanted a private Masss I'd call the diocese, a local parish, or Order and ask to speak to a PRIEST.
I voted for JFK. I was thrilled to have a Catholic in the White House. We can never judge another man's soul. But if Kennedy were an habitual confessor, I don't think he would have been an habitual adulterer and drug user.
Did he go to confession that day? I think he would have needed a lot longer than 20 minutes to purify his soul. Still, miracles happen.
But, if JFK were in paradise, would the rest of his family have fallen into such evil? Are they so blind to signs from heaven that he presumably would have sent them that they've become a family of murderers, rapists, and drug addicts despite any (presumed) signs?
I would be thoroughly disheartened if this is the beginning of some attempt to cannonize that man.
True, Bobby was just a little weeney wanting to be a great big hot dog. After he was appointed U.S. Attorney General with no expererience, no qualifications except having his brother as President, Bobby even went after the mafia, and the mob and his family knew each other. (Jack even shared a mistress with Sam Giaconna, while he was in the White House.)
Bobby was the original 98-lb weakling that thought family power and money could let him act like a tough guy, and he made enemies with impunity. His behavior after his brother's assasination was curious. He went through a terrible personal time, by all accounts, but even as the Attorney General, he stayed away completely from the Warren Commission investigation. Odd, because one would think that a vengeful Bobby Kennedy would want to know who/who all killed his older brother. But Bobby stayed completely away from it....
This was a Catholic family. An imperfect one, yes, but from all indications, it went beyond simple cultural heritage.
What a masterful example of understatement.
Joseph Kennedy Sr. was the generational curser and the moneybags that promoted/demoted his own children in one of the most blatant hunger-drives for power in American history. Joe's bootlegging and mafia contacts have come to light over the years, as well as his personal crassness. One example of his crass family behavior, out of countless others, was when he took his Hollywood starlet mistress, Gloria Swanson, on a boat cruise with his wife and all their children. Swanson later remarked in her autobiography that she couldn't tell if Joe's wife, Rose, was an idiot or just purposely blind during that incredible family vacation. Swanson also wrote that ol' Joe ripped her off for $5 million while "managing" her career in Hollywood. He'd even send her fur coats and diamonds, which she later found were billed to her. The old SOB told her that he could prove he had been faithful to her, because 4 years passed between Jean and Teddy's births. His second-born son, Jack, would later have to warn his sisters' visiting friends to lock their bedroom doors at night because his father was known to barge in - and the old bugger tried to molest at least one of them.
Rose left him when Joe Jr. and Jack were little, and her father sent her back because divorce was unthinkable. She became nothing more than a brood mare, and spent a large amount of her time and Joe's money traveling to Paris and other European site-seeing areas, leaving her family alone. The kids grew up knowing that Dad was all-powerful, and as a young JFK once remarked to a friend, "My mother is a nothing."
Joe decided on his own to try the new surgical technique of lobotomy on his eldest daughter, which he'd read had been successful at calming overly-excitable mental patients, and he had it done while Rosemary's mother was gone without bothering to tell Rose. Rosemary had been mildly retarded before the operation; she wrote pitifully adoring letters to her father during his ambassadorship to pre-WWII Great Britain, and was presented at Court with her younger sister, Kathleen. But later after the operation, Rosemary was profoundly retarded, incontinent, and certainly unable to read or write. Rose was said to be furious when she found out, but only she and her daughter Eunice ever visited Rosemary, who has been cared for by Catholic nuns in Winconsin ever since. Rosemary Kennedy is still alive to this day, but mercifully she has been spared from any gawkers.
This is no knock on Catholics, so hopefully no one will take it as so. The Kennedy family has been endlessly examined and it is well-known they are/have been mostly disfunctional. With that ruthless founding father, they would have been so in any other religion. Any reading of the family history leads back to the founding father and his wild desire for money and power, while proudly getting away with and then flaunting everything he could. His amoral and tawdry hijinks are legendary. In short, there were no moral family role models for his decendants, just the overwhelming belief that money could buy anything and get you out of any trouble. It's called hubris, but with a capital "H". Hubris caught up with ol' Joe because he suffered a stroke in 1962, and his wife wasn't concerned enough to have him taken to a hospital until several hours afterwards. He was side-lined by his family, and put in the care of a family niece who said that he wasn't given the therapy he hadn't to help him function better. But he was still knowlegeable, and sat through the assasinations of two of his sons, and the Chappaquic disgrace of the youngest son. He died not long after that, paralyzed and unable to still protect and guide his biological extensions.
Sorry for the rant, but all the media attention on the 40th anniversity of JFK's assasination is a little much. His weak showing in a Berlin meeting with Nikita Kruschev led that Soviet premier to think JFK would put up with nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was the result. His dabblings in Viet Nam, including the go-along with the assasination of Diem, were disasterous, and he is grossly over-rated for his interest in civil rights. His womanizing in the White House and elsewhere were so great that even his trusted press contacts might not have protected him from exposure had he not been killed in Dallas in Nov., 1963.
JFK had a sad childhood in so many ways, in part because of his chronic health problems. He did show great personal bravery in WWII after carelessly allowing his PT boat to be the only PT boat not in a battle to be run over at night by a Japanese destroyer, and JFK valiently struggled through health conditions that would have put anyone else in a nursing home or a grave. He also took anphetamines provided by his Dr. to keep going during his White House years.
The Kennedy lifestyle was nothing anyone should envy because the price for the moneied lifestyle and power also caused great personal destruction. Just look at them. The origins of "Kennedy Family Curse" are so obvious that folklore doesn't require a witch doctor to cast the spell, it was the founding pater & mater.