By all accounts, Jacqueline Kennedy was a quiet woman. Elegant and stately, she rarely had an unkind word or complaint to utter. Her aptitude for exhibiting grace under pressure set an example for all of her admirers. Even 20 years after her death, interest in the former First Lady has not waned. Interestingly, the world has now been afforded an opportunity to get a more intimate glance into the heart and mind of Jacqueline Kennedy.
More than 30 letters recently surfaced that reveal a loving and intimate relationship between Kennedy and Father Joseph Leonard. The two began their friendship in 1950, when a young Jacqueline Bouvier spent a summer touring Europe with her step-brother, Hugh Dudley Auchincloss III. Father Leonard was a priest at All Hallows College in Dublin, Ireland. W.S. Lewis, Jackie’s step-uncle was a long-time friend of Father Leonard and he recommended that the two young people meet him.
During subsequent trips, Jackie made several visits to her new friend. Auchincloss recalled that she adored the tales he told about the castles and kings of Ireland. Jackie and Father Leonard got on quite well and had wonderful conversations. When she got back to the states, they began corresponding through letters.
Over the years, Kennedy shared some surprising insights with Father Leonard. When her husband, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963, she admitted to having some doubts about her faith. A few months after his death, she shared that she was feeling bitter toward God. She tried to reason it out, saying that perhaps the meaning of her husband’s early demise was to demonstrate how much a man like him was needed in the world. However, this idea struck her as strange. She said that God would have some explaining to do if that was His reason for taking her husband away from her. It is easy to get a sense of the struggle between Kennedy’s heart and mind at such a difficult time in her life.
In another letter, Jackie describes Rose Kennedy, as perhaps not being very smart. She assessed that her mother-in-law, rather than read a book, would choose to say a rosary. During the early years of her marriage, she wrote of her concern that her husband would turn out as her father had. She knew that the senior Bouvier had a wandering eye. Maybe she even sensed that in her husband, too.
Jackie expressed gratitude for her older pen pal’s wisdom and experience and for helping to mold her. She even called herself a “willing piece of putty.” In one letter, she told Father Leonard how good it was for her to write these thoughts and feelings, getting them off of her chest. The two friends exchanged letters and books for about 15 years. In a drawer, in Dublin, the letters sat for decades.
Jacqueline Kennedy’s newborn son, Patrick, died in August of 1963, her husband in November that same year, and her dear friend, Father Joseph Leonard, in 1964. To have had three such tremendous losses so close to one another must have been anguishing. However, she continued to carry herself with grace and dignity. If Jackie’s heart was breaking and her mind was numbed, she never let on. Father Leonard, in a letter he wrote to Jackie after her husband’s death, told her that she gave women the world over an ideal representation of the Valiant Woman. That is still true today.
Opinion by Stacy Lamy