Who was Fr Joseph Leonard?

     Photograph supplied by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House

Photograph supplied by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House

Tue, May 13, 2014, 06:00

Fr Joseph Leonard CM was born in Sligo in 1877 and died in Dublin in 1964, aged 87. He was a priest in the Catholic Vincentian Order – the letters CM stand for Congregation of the Mission – which is devoted to the teachings of St Vincent de Paul.

Fr Leonard was educated at Castleknock College, a Vincentian boarding school in Dublin, and trained for the priesthood at the Vincentian seminary St Joseph’s in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

After being ordained he was sent to London and taught in a teacher- training college run by the order in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

During the first World War he joined the British army’s chaplain department, holding the rank of captain and serving on the western front in France. The experience left him partly deaf.

He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He returned to work in London and was friendly with prominent social figures including Irish playwright and Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw and the hostess Lady Lavery, wife of artist Sir John Lavery and a friend of Michael Collins.

Fr Leonard was introduced to, and befriended, a wealthy American couple on honeymoon, Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis and his wife Annie Auchincloss.

Fr Leonard returned to Dublin in 1939, to the Vincentian seminary at All Hallows in Drumcondra.

Eleven years later he was contacted by two young American visitors to Ireland: Jacqueline Lee Bouvier and her stepbrother Hugh Dudley Auchincloss III. They had been given Fr Leonard’s name as a contact by Mrs Lewis. Mrs Lewis’s brother, oil heir Hugh Auchincloss Jr, had become Jacqueline’s stepfather in 1942.

Jacqueline and Fr Leonard struck up an immediate friendship and corresponded regularly after that first meeting. They met on only one other occasion, however, when Jacqueline travelled to Dublin with her husband John F Kennedy, then a US senator, in 1955.

Fr Leonard’s health declined rapidly in the 1960s. By late 1963 he was unable to stand and had to request special permission from the Vatican to say Mass sitting down – which he did in memory of John F Kennedy following the president’s assassination in November 1963.

On the morning of Fr Leonard’s funeral in Dublin, as the coffin was being borne into the church, a bouquet of red roses was delivered from Jacqueline in New York.

Mrs Kennedy, widowed less than a year, subsequently wrote to the rector of All Hallows to offer condolences on the loss of “a great and good friend to all of us”.