Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Looking Back: Remembering John F. Kennedy

Published November 21, 2013

From The Georgia Bulletin of Nov. 28, 1963, and Dec. 5, 1963, these are some of the reflections from national leaders and parish priests on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the legacy of the youthful first Catholic president.

Pictured is a prayer card from President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington Nov. 25, 1963. CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard

Pictured is a prayer card from President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington Nov. 25, 1963. CNS photo/courtesy Catholic Standard

Father R. Donald Kiernan, a Massachusetts native, in his “Georgia Pines” column …

“ … The first time I remember seeing John Kennedy was years ago in Boston. He was running for a seat in the House of Representatives. I recall overhearing two old men making a comment following a rally speech which John Kennedy had just given. One man said to the other: “He has the fire of old Honey Fitz.” (Honey Fitz was his grandfather who had served as Boston’s mayor.)

“Kennedy was not too well known to Georgians until the Georgia delegation to a national Democratic convention picked him for the vice presidency to run with Adlai Stevenson. Kennedy declined to run at this time.

“When I was stationed in Athens, I recall that he came to the University of Georgia and delivered a graduation speech in Sanford stadium. The audience was packed with Georgia politicians and already this young man had gained fame on the national scene with his best seller, “Profiles in Courage.”

“The late President’s next visit to Georgia was while he was running for President. I recall a reception at the Dinkler-Plaza hotel in which he charmed everyone with his easy manner, warm smile and terrific personality.

“I drove to Warm Springs to see and hear him speak to Georgians during his bid for the presidency. He was a great figure standing on the porch of Roosevelt’s “Little White House” and all went away convinced that this man could win. I recall that when I returned to my car, handbills had been placed in all the automobiles reading that if this man won the “Pope of Rome would be running the country.” (I wonder where those hate-mongers are now.) …

“ … I went to Washington in January of 1960 to see this man inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States. A big snowstorm fell the night before and the workmen worked feverishly the night through to clear the parade route. It did not dampen the ceremony one bit and I think the one single thing remembered from that day were his words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

“All over the world today memorials are being conducted in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish churches. There is a feeling that this good man belonged to us all. Here in Gainesville at Saint Michael’s Church, the Mayor, City Commissioners, department heads of the city government along with officials of Hall County joined the parishioners in a final requiem for America’s departed President.”

Msgr. Patrick J. O’Connor in his eulogy at the Cathedral of Christ the King solemn requiem Mass for the late President John F. Kennedy on Monday night, Nov. 25, 1963:

“ … For us as Catholics this is a particularly poignant moment in our lives and in the life of this nation we love so dearly. This young president was closer to each of us than we realize. He was a member of our faith, a participant in our mass, a receiver as we are of the sacraments of our Church. We were understandably proud in his accession to the highest elective office in our land. The election of this young man to the Presidency of the United States marked the ascendancy to this position of the first Catholic in the history of our nation. It is comforting for us to note that this could not have happened without the support of our non-Catholic American citizens. We are well aware of this cooperation and for it we are deeply grateful. The election of President Kennedy was of tremendous significance because it marked for all to see the abandonment of religious bigotry in this our beloved country. We are proud, and justifiably so, because his election and tenure of office proved to all the world an American Catholic can be loyal to his faith and also to his constitutional duties.”

From the Archbishop’s Notebook of Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan on Dec. 5, 1963:

“We are re-learning the lesson of sacrifice. It was a terrible lesson. But we had almost forgotten that the death of a man devoted to the cause of justice can say more to closed minds than his most eloquent words could ever do. Will America take the lesson to heart?

“We can face the sorry spectacle of Dallas, the scrambling for power in Washington, the cunning in Russia, the contempt in China, if we pull ourselves together. It all seems now in bitter contrast to the magnificent courage of the President’s widow. Jacqueline Kennedy faces a bleak world, but for one terrible week, she gave the whole human family a picture of dignity, a profile of courage, a model of prayer. What she had done to guide us in this awful week is as important to mankind as what President Kennedy tried to achieve in his brief lifetime.”

Proclamation of National Day of Mourning by President Lyndon B. Johnson:

“I earnestly recommend the people to assemble on that day in their respective places of divine worship, there to bow down in submission to the will of Almighty God, and to pay their homage of love and reverence to the memory of a great and good man.

“I invite the people of the world who share our grief to join us in this day of mourning and dedication.”