President Kennedy’s Catholic stops in 1963

President Kennedy and his family Easter Sunday 1963 (CNS photo/Reuters)

President Kennedy and his family on Easter Sunday 1963. (CNS photo/Reuters)

President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to be elected to the nation’s highest office, regarded his religion as “a very private matter,” but the mere fact he was a Catholic scared off plenty of voters and also drew some in.

He tried to calm some fears by telling a group of ministers in Houston in 1960: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.”

Even so,  his Catholicism was ever-present and many Catholic homes placed a photo of Kennedy on the wall right next to an image of Pope John XXIII.

As a Catholic in high office, he was obviously a big “get” if he paid a visit to a Catholic school or institution.

In the spring of 1963, he attended an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of Jesuit-run Boston College. The visit, according to a Washington Post report was his first stop at a “Catholic institution of learning” since becoming president.

During the visit, chronicled here,  Kennedy spoke for about 10 minutes, addressing school alumni.

He told them he was glad to be back  where his “accent is considered normal.” He then went on to praise the papal encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”) which had been issued nine days previously.

President Kennedy meets Pope Paul VI in undated photo. (CNS)

President Kennedy meets Pope Paul VI in undated photo. (CNS)

“As a Catholic I am proud of it, and as an American I have learned from it,”  he said.

In another Catholic visit just weeks before his death, Kennedy paid a surprise visit Nov. 15 to the National Catholic Youth Organization Federation convention in New York City.
In typical fashion, he urged Catholic youths not only to serve their families and their church but also their country.

Catholic press accounts at time of Kennedy’s assassination and on 50th anniversary of his death

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963, and the 50th anniversary of this tragic event have garnered extensive media coverage.

Kennedy's funeral procession (CNS photo/U.Kennedy Presidential Library) (Nov. 21, 2013)

Kennedy’s funeral procession making its way to Capitol in Washington Nov. 24, 1963. (CNS photo/U.S. Army Signal Corps, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)

The Catholic press has done its share, too, specifically honing in on the Catholic faith of the nation’s 35th president with stories focusing on a priest who administered last rites to the president after he was shot, the homily at his funeral Mass in Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral and the priest who narrated the funeral for a worldwide audience on television and the radio.

The Kennedy assassination folder in the archives of Catholic News Service contains stories (like the one below)  from the funeral Mass in Washington, a Requiem Mass celebrated at a Rome cathedral and special permission for a Mass celebrated at the Kennedy home in Hyannis, Mass., since the president’s father, Joseph, was not well enough to attend the Mass in Washington.

Nov. 25, 1963 story by CNS (formerly NCWC News Service)

Nov. 25, 1963, story on Kennedy funeral by CNS’ predecessor, NCWC News Service.

In his homily at the funeral Mass in Washington, according to our story, Boston Cardinal Richard Cushing, a friend of the Kennedy family, said he had been with the president “since the earliest days of his public life.”

“I have been with him in joy and in sorrow, in decision and in crisis, among friends and with strangers. … Now, all of a sudden, he has been taken from us and we shall not see his like again,” he added.

The cardinal also stressed the public service call of President Kennedy, saying: “It is a consolation for us all to know that his death does not spell the end of this public service.”

Indeed many people continue to keep that vision alive through participation in the Peace Corps or other volunteer work, still remembering Kennedy’s oft-repeated phrase:  “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

President Kennedy reaches out to crowd outside Texas hotel in 1963 CNS photo/Cecil Stoughton, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

President Kennedy reaches out to crowd outside Texas hotel in 1963. (CNS photo/Cecil Stoughton, courtesy John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

And people also continue to examine Kennedy’s family, his presidency and his Catholicism.

The newspaper of  the Diocese of Dallas, The Texas Catholic, has written extensively about Kennedy’s impact and what his death meant to the city, nation and world.

The USCCB’s blog also examines Kennedy’s Catholicism,  his politics and continuing influence.

Russell Shaw, author and Our Sunday Visitor contributing editor,  sums up some of the modern Catholic views of Kennedy this way in the Nov. 6 issue of Our Sunday Visitor:

“Half a century after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, disagreement runs deep regarding his place in American Catholic history. Conflicting images of the man — fallen hero of the Camelot myth, cynical and manipulative rogue, or perhaps something harder to define — compete for Catholics’ allegiance.

Such images “compete for the allegiance of non-Catholic Americans too,” Shaw continues. “Yet for Catholics, the ambivalence has a particularly sharp edge. Kennedy was one of our own. Both his death and the meaning of his life are matters of special poignancy for us.”

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