Tuesday, November 22, 2011

22 November: A Personal Reflection

Today, 22 November 2011, we commemorate the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  I leave it to political pundits and scholars to hypothesize about the impact of JFK's loss on our nation.  For now, though, I simply offer one man's personal reflection.

On 22 November 1963, I was a freshman in high school seminary: St. Henry Preparatory Seminary in Belleville, Illinois.  I was studying to become a priest in the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), hoping to become a missionary priest.  Three years before, while still in grade school at St. Patrick's Parish in Peoria, Illinois, my class had staged our own version of the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debates, as we learned that, for the first time ever, the United States might actually elect a Catholic to be president!  Not everyone was a Kennedy supporter: even at home, my Dad was firmly behind Richard Nixon.  After the election, Kennedy had won and then came that marvelous inaugural address!  "Ask not what your country can do for you. . . ."  What an exciting time!

As JFK was preparing to run for president, of course, things were changing in the Church, too -- the other great influence on those of us in Catholic grade school.  In 1958, the long-serving Pope Pius XII died, and Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected pope, taking the name of John XXIII.  There was such excitement about the new pope, especially when, in January 1959, he announced that he was convening a general Council of the Church: Vatican II.  To me, as a young Catholic boy who had already decided that he wanted to go to the seminary, it seemed like everything and anything was going to be possible in the church and the world.

1962: the year of the opening of the Council and the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as a 12-year old, I watched with my Mom and Dad as President Kennedy showed those frightening photos of the missile launchers in Cuba and announced the naval blockade.  If I could have enlisted in the Navy that night, I would have.  The world was rapidly changing, and we wanted to be part of it.

In 1963, suddenly, things began to change in a negative direction, including the death of "good Pope John" and then the assassination of President Kennedy.  Even though I was only 13, I made two scrapbooks that year, and I still have them: one on the President and one on the Pope.  Suddenly, our generation had to start to grow up and face unpleasant realities.  A new word, "Vietnam" replaced "French Indochina" in our news, and tensions increased in both our government and in our church.  This would seem to build until the awful year of 1968: the year of the Tet Offensive, and the year of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  While those events would really steer our generation in many ways, the process really began with that shocking day, 48 years ago, in Dallas.

Ultimately, it's not helpful to wonder "what if" JFK hadn't been cut down.  At the same time, it does seem opportune to see if we can recover some of the optimism and enthusiasm we all had for the Church and Country back then!  Wouldn't it be wonderful too see and encourage the possibilities of the future, and not all of the things that keep us angry and divided?

RIP, President Kennedy.  We're still here, still trying to live up to the potential of your inaugural challenge!


  1. William I was 3 years old when JFK was assasinated and 8 when Bobby Kenndy and Dr. King were assasinated. I recall the Vatican II changes. These were without a doubt some significant changes in our society and the life of the church.

    Deacon Miguel Pagan
    Orlando, Fl

  2. In case anyone is interested:

    The United State Air Force VC137-C -- Tail Number 26000 -- which, as "Air Force One," took President Kennedy to Dallas, and the one where President Johnson was sworn in on, and the one that brought all the entourage back to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington DC-- is available for visits.

    It is housed in "The Presidential Collection" of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

    I volunteer in that gallery usually eight hours a month. I have had visitors go through Kennedy's Air Force One crying; I have had folks speak to me in awkward English that they had traveled half-way across the world to touch that plane; I have even had folks who have tried to convince me that the "ghosts" in that plane talked to them.

    That is one of the "secular ministries" that I do.

    Deacon Norb in Ohio

  3. Dear Deacon Bill, I recently completed a year of Aspirancy and was not called to formation. The diocese "discerned" that I am not called to the diaconate. I have had much difficulty dealing with this decision and would very much appreciate your feedback and would like to correspond with you about my situation.Is there someway we could do that? I would appreciaet your time and wisdom. I can be reached at jkropf@windstream.net. Thanks and blessings, John Kropf