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On assassination anniversary, Catholics reflect on JFK’s faith and life A mixed blessing for the Catholic Church

Dr. Matthew Wilson, a Catholic, political science professor, and director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Southern Methodist University, called the JFK presidency a mixed blessing for the Catholic Church in America. 

ECCLESIASTICAL - The Century Guild
ECCLESIASTICAL – The Century Guild

“It came with a price because it showed that a Catholic could be accepted if he was willing to leave a significant part of his faith at the door,” he said in an interview with “EWTN News In Depth.”

“Separation of church and state does not mean the marginalization or the sidelining of our deepest values that are derived from our religious faith,” Wilson explained.

Worship Committee « Seward UMC
Worship Committee « Seward UMC

Wilson pointed out that since Kennedy, a pattern has emerged where both Democrat and Republican politicians in the U.S. often misuse or sacrifice their faith convictions for political purposes. “Time and time again, they choose party over church. They choose party values over religious values.” 

However, for Kennedy the separation of his personal and public life evidently went deeper than just politics.

Altar and sanctuary inside the historic Grace United Methodist
Altar and sanctuary inside the historic Grace United Methodist

“He was an incorrigible womanizer and cheated many times on his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy,” Perry said. “So yes, he led a promiscuous life in his personal life.”

Despite this, Perry pointed out that Kennedy continued to keep an unmistakably Catholic spiritual routine.

Altar and sanctuary inside the historic Grace United Methodist
Altar and sanctuary inside the historic Grace United Methodist

Nightly prayers and sacrament of reconciliation

“President Kennedy, throughout his presidency and throughout his life, went to Mass religiously, every Sunday,” she explained. “Yes, he probably had some questions about his faith, but she [Jacqueline] said every night he was down on his knees saying his prayers.” Mrs. Kennedy also said her husband went to confession sometimes.

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For weekend getaways, the Kennedys would spend time in the countryside, near Middleburg, Virginia. In the early 1960s, St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Middleburg was completed with the president in mind. On Nov. 10, 1963, JFK attended his last Mass at St. Stephen’s.

The next Sunday, Nov. 17, Kennedy attended Mass at St. Ann Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Florida. Kennedy’s Requiem Mass was held on Nov. 25 at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington. An engraving on the floor of the cathedral marks the spot where the casket rested, prior to the president’s remains being removed to Arlington National Cemetery “in expectation of a heavenly resurrection.”

Monsignor John Enzler is a Catholic priest in Washington. Screenshot from EWTN News In Depth

Monsignor John Enzler, a Catholic priest in Washington, was in high school when Kennedy was assassinated. As he reflects on the life of Kennedy now, he sees it as a cautionary tale for all politicians, on both sides of the aisle, who proclaim the Christian faith yet reject it in aspects of either their personal or public life.

“Sin is like a cancer. When you fall into a sin, it begins to eat away at your very being,” he told “EWTN News In Depth” in an interview. Enzler added the true tragedy would be to not accept God’s forgiveness and reform our lives.

He shared: “The tragedy would be to lose your soul. To say ‘I’m not being able to enter God’s kingdom because of my actions, because of my decisions, because of my rejection of what in conscience I know is right.”

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