Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"The Hidden Religious Angst of Jackie Kennedy" by John Cooney, Dublin, Ireland

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy became "bitter" towards God after the combined trauma of the death of her two day-old son Patrick and the assassination in Dallas of her husband President John F. Kennedy, both in 1963, she revealed to an Irish priest in correspondence which is to go for sale by auction in Dublin next month.

The first Lady's letters to Vincentian priest, Fr Joseph Leonard were discovered only weeks ago in the archive of the Irish missionary order whose All Hallows College is situated at Drumcondra on Dublin's northside.

In a four page special supplement in its May 13th edition The Irish Times newspaper hailed as a world scope the previously unknown correspondence which it received from Sheppard's Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois. It is expected to be sold on June 10 for about 1 million euro.

Describing the letters as "extraordinary" and as having "the quality of a personal diary", the newspaper's deputy editor, Denis Staunton, wrote that "they may help to rescue Jacqueline Kennedy's memory from the myth that surrounds it as they reveal in her own words how she experienced some of the most important events of her life."

The letters span 14 years from 1950 when she first met Fr Leonard in Dublin to 1964, thirty years before her death in 1994.

"They are, in effect, her autobiography for the year 1950-64," said Philip Sheppard.

Jacqueline's crisis of faith and her struggle to make her peace with a cruel deity and stave off personal despair are highlighted in two letters from 1964.

In early 1964 she confided to Fr Leonard: "I am so bitter against God."

And in a follow-up letter, her last to the Irish cleric who died that same year she confided: "I feel more cruelly every day what I have lost - I always would have rather lost my life than lost Jack."

Jackie's disillusionment with God and the mystery of human suffering are in marked contrast to her stoic response to the birth in 1956 of a stillborn daughter whom she baptised Arabella when JFK was philandering with a less than bright blonde on a rich friend's yacht in the Mediterranean.

"Don't think I would ever be bitter to God," she told Fr. Leonard, observing that she could "see so many good things that come out of this - how sadness shared brings married people closer together."

A feature of the correspondence is the pre-tragedy piety of the wealthy Washington socialite and the elderly Irish priest living in a monastery 3,000 miles away in Dublin.

Much of the correspondence relates to the exchange of pious books on the lives of saints.

But there are also revealing admission of her loneliness and her hurt at the infidelities of her hyper-sexed husband. 

"It's so good in a way to write all this down and get it off your chest - because I never do really talk about it with anyone - but poor you has to read it."

* JOHN COONEY is a former Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times and the Irish Independent. He is the biographer of John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland, published by O'Brien Press Dublin and Syracuse University New York.      

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