‘Sadness shared brings married people closer together’

GRIEF & FAITH: After the deaths of her husband and two of her children, Jacqueline Kennedy’s faith was tested

 Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jnr, at Shannon airport.

Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jnr, at Shannon airport.


In 1956, Jackie, by now Mrs Kennedy, wrote to Fr Joseph Leonard, after the birth of a stillborn daughter, Arabella that year, and said: “Don’t think I would ever be bitter at God” and she observed that she could “see so many good things that come out of this – how sadness shared brings married people closer together”.

Seven years later, though, after enduring the death of her son Patrick (who lived for only two days in 1963) and the assassination of her husband Jack in November 1963, Jackie’s self-proclaimed deep Catholic faith was under terrible strain and she admitted privately to Fr Leonard that she was “so bitter against God” and struggling to make her peace with Him.

Throughout the correspondence, Jackie comments on books about the lives of the saints that Fr Leonard sent to her and how the elderly priest had rekindled her interest in religion.

In early 1952, she wrote: “I terribly want to be a good Catholic now and I know it’s all because of you. I suppose I realized in the back of my mind you wanted that – you gave me the rosary as I left Ireland.”

She was 22 years old and told the priest: “I suddenly realized this Christmas when my sister and I decided – after not going to church for a year – that we desperately wanted to change & get close to God again – that it must have been your little prayers that worked – all the way across the ocean.”

‘Trite little phrases’
Jacqueline admitted that the version of Catholicism she encountered in Fr Leonard was very different from her experience of priests in America to whom she had “confessed” and who had given her “a whole lot of trite little phrases that make you angry & resentful and farther away from the church than ever”.

Fr Leonard, by contrast, was “someone who loves everything I love – who you can have FUN with – who can take you to Jammet’s & the theatre as naturally as to Mass – whom you can talk to about anything in the world and know you won’t shock them – and whose whole life is built on love – love and not fear – which is what always put me off”.

Jackie was also fascinated by the conclave in the Vatican in 1958 and wondered: “Those naughty cardinals locked in there – what do you suppose they were putting in that poor stove?”

She was surprised by the election of Pope John XXII (recently declared a saint) and commented: “I do feel so sorry for him – coming after a Pope [Pius XII] whom everyone loved so much.”