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Catholic college to receive windfall from Jackie Kennedy letters
16 May 2014 13:09 by James Macintyre

A Catholic College in Dublin stands to gain over £800,000 from the sale of private correspondence from the late Jacqueline Kennedy to an Irish priest. 

The cache of letters from the widow of the assassinated US President to Fr Joseph Leonard was discovered at All Hallows College, the Vincentian-run institution in Dublin, after staff attended an evaluation event hosted by Sheppard’s Irish Auction House in Durrow, County Laois, in February.

College staff brought to the auction house a rare medieval book from the college library and showed it to a local expert, Owen Felix O’Neill, who happened to be present. They invited Mr O’Neill to visit their library where he discovered Mrs Kennedy’s letters and postcards. Mr O’Neill reportedly then passed them on to the auctioneers, who will oversee the sale in June and estimate that it will raise up to one million euros.

All Hallows College refused to comment on the sale, referring media to the auctioneer, Philip Sheppard of the auction house. He said: “We never disclose who a vendor or purchaser is as a matter of policy. They were consigned to us by a private source.”

But The Irish Times, which this week published extracts from the letters, reported Mr O’Neill as having said “the college desperately needs money.”

Mrs Kennedy, then Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, met Fr Joseph on a visit to Dublin in 1950. The pair struck up an immediate friendship and corresponded regularly until the priest’s death in 1964, a year after President John F Kennedy was assassinated.

In one letter dated January 1964, only two months after President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas, Mrs Kennedy wrote of struggling with her Catholic faith. “I am so bitter against God,” she wrote, adding that “only he and you and I know that”.

“God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see him … I have to think there is a God - or I have no hope of finding Jack again,” she added.

At the age of 22 in 1952, Mrs Kennedy thanked the priest for reviving her Catholic faith. “I terribly want to be a good Catholic now and I know it’s all because of you,” she wrote.

Jacqueline Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, is currently the United States Ambassador to Japan. A spokesman at the embassy said: “We don’t have any comment on that.” Other members of the Kennedy family have not commented on the sale. 

Above: Fr Joseph with Jackie Kennedy. Photo: Sheppard's Irish Auction House