Priest’s letters confirm close friendship with Jackie Kennedy

Condolences sent to Jackie Kennedy following her son’s death and husband’s murder

Senator Kennedy at All Hallows College in Dublin in September 1955 with Fr Leonard (left) and All Hallows president Fr William Purcell

Senator Kennedy at All Hallows College in Dublin in September 1955 with Fr Leonard (left) and All Hallows president Fr William Purcell

Thu, May 15, 2014, 06:40

If the letters sent by Jackie Kennedy to Dublin priest Fr Joseph Leonard are confessional in nature, the letters he sent her confirm their close friendship and his role as a spiritual confidant.

Fr Leonard’s letters, contained in the White House “Social Files” at the John F Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, were written in 1963, the year before the priest’s death. They comprise his only correspondence to her in the public domain.

The letters in the library’s archives hint at the long-term nature of their relationship but offer little insight into what they might have discussed before Jackie moved into the White House.

A collection of letters written by Jackie to Fr Leonard is to be auctioned by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois, on June 10th.

Jackie and Fr Leonard swapped letters in January 1963, thanking each other for gifts exchanged. In a letter dated January 7th, she thanked him for a copy of My Ireland by Kate O’Brien, which “brought the perfect Irish note to our Palm Beach Christmas”, she wrote.

“We will both enjoy reading it because Kate O’Brien has made a great name for herself in this country with her charming style,” she wrote in a typed letter.

“We think of you often, and wish we could have sent a magic ship to bring you over to spend some time in the sun with us. With all our love, and our hopes that you will continue to pray for us in 1963,” she concluded, signing off in her own handwriting: “As ever, your devoted Jacqueline.”

A week later, Fr Leonard replied on All Hallows College notepaper, which carried its address in Dublin 9. He wished Jackie and the president “every grace and blessing for this and many other years to come” and thanked her for a “beautiful book” she sent about the White House.

“I valued above all else the inscription,” he wrote, without saying what she wrote.

“I should like the president to know how profoundly I appreciate the courage, magnanimity and wisdom with which he is carrying out the duties of his great office, and yourself to realise that I look upon your friendship as one of the greatest consolations and blessings of a long life,” he wrote.

The octogenarian priest signed off the two-page letter (in handwriting that is at times hard to decipher): “With love to you both, I am, as I have ever been, your devoted and affectionate old friend.”