Letters to priest provide rare insight into life of Jackie Kennedy

A 14-year correspondence with Fr Joseph Leonard reveal thoughts about marriage to President John F Kennedy and reaction to his assassination

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's thoughts about her marriage to President John F Kennedy, their life in the White House and her reaction to his assassination are revealed in newly discovered letters she wrote to an Irish priest before and after she became first lady of the United States.

The archive of her 14-year-long correspondence with Fr Joseph Leonard – a Vincentian priest who lived in All Hallows in Drumcondra in Dublin – will be sold at an auction in Ireland next month.

In the previously unpublished letters, Jackie tells Fr Leonard how Kennedy, who was then a rising star in American politics, was consumed by ambition “like Macbeth”.

In a letter sent in July 1952, she said her time with him had given her “an amazing insight on politicians – they really are a breed apart”.


She described with great excitement how she was in love with “the son of the ambassador to England”, but expressed concern he might prove to be like her father, John Vernou Bouvier.

“He’s like my father in a way – loves the chase and is bored with the conquest – and once married needs proof he’s still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you. I saw how that nearly killed Mummy.”

'Men of Destiny'
In a letter written in 1953, when she was still only 23, she confided to Fr Leonard: "Maybe I'm just dazzled and picture myself in a glittering world of crowned heads and Men of Destiny– and not just a sad little housewife . . . That world can be very glamorous from the outside – but if you're in it – and you're lonely – it could be a Hell."

However, after a year of marriage she wrote to him: “I love being married much more than I did even in the beginning.”

After her husband’s assassination in 1963, she confided to Fr Leonard how she became “bitter against God” and struggled to find comfort in her deep Catholic faith.

“I have to think there is a God – or I have no hope of finding Jack again.” She added, with bittersweet humour: “God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see Him.”

Although her public life has been subject to the most intense scrutiny, Jackie didn’t publish an autobiography and no memoir appeared after her death in 1994 at the age of 64.

Her obituary in the New York Times noted that "her silence about her past, especially about the Kennedy years and her marriage to the president, was always something of a mystery".

The archive of letters to Fr Leonard has been consigned to Sheppard's Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois.

Spokesman Philip Sheppard said the letters were “the dream find of a lifetime for an auctioneer” and they included “simply astounding fresh insights that transform our understanding of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy”.

He said: “They are, in effect, her autobiography for the years 1950-1964.”

He expects the archive will sell in an auction on June 10th for “in excess of €1 million”.

* This article appears as part of a special supplement with today’s Irish Times

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques