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