Forty-seven years ago today I was sitting in a classroom at Regina High School when an announcement came over the speaker system that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. We were Catholic girls and President Kennedy was our president, the first Catholic ever elected to office. He was handsome and charming and he had a beautiful wife and two adorable young children. We gasped and cried. I remember thinking that surely he would live, that God wouldn’t let him die. Or maybe it was a mistake, maybe a gun had been fired but our president wasn’t really hit. Minutes later we assembled in the all-purpose room to pray. And soon the principal announced that he had died. The students, the lay teachers, the cafeteria ladies, the nuns—we sobbed in one mournful voice. We lost our idealism, our faith in our strong and noble country, our belief that bad things could not happen to good people. We lost our innocence.
Now we know that John F. Kennedy was not a perfect man, but in 1963 we believed he was good, moral, and invincible. Even had he not been assassinated, I am sure that in time the Camelot myth would have been debunked. But it crashed down so quickly that sunny day in November 1963. Jackie in her pink suit, splattered with his blood. She was stunned as were we all.
It was the week of Thanksgiving. We lived just outside Washington, DC, and my friend Jeannie and I took the bus into the city for the funeral. It was cool and clear and we dressed like we were going to church. We got off the bus and walked a few blocks to stand on the sidewalk directly in front of the White House. We saw Jackie, her faced veiled in black, and the Kennedy family members. We saw national leaders and foreign dignitaries—French President Charles DeGaulle, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Prince Phillip of England. And the horse-drawn wagon carrying John Kennedy’s coffin. There was an eerie silence—just the footsteps of the mourners, the quiet weeping of the crowd, the clop of the horse’s hooves, and the sound of the wagon wheels on the pavement.