Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 20 April |
home iconNews
line break icon

JFK and Nostalgia for Ethnic Catholicism

Cecil Stoughton

George Weigel - published on 11/20/13

Kennedy Catholicism, a faith that is more of an ethnicity than a life-changing religion, is one of the last expressions of Counter-Reformation Catholicism - and it's fading fast.

On Nov. 22, 1963, the seventh grade at Baltimore’s Cathedral School was in gym class when we got word that President Kennedy had been shot. A half-hour later, while we were climbing the stairs back to 7B’s classroom, Sister Dolorine’s voice came over the p.a., announcing that the president was dead. Walking into 7B, my classmates and I saw something that shocked us as much as the news we’d just heard: our tough-love homeroom teacher, a young School Sister of Notre Dame, was sobbing, her faced buried in her arms on her desk. 

The days of public mourning that followed—their solemnity shattered only by the assassination of the assassin on live TV—were bound to leave an impression on a 12-year-old. Indeed, so great was the impression, and so effective the subsequent myth-making, that a half-dozen or so years later, as a college student beginning to feel the effects of late-‘60s skepticism, I was nonetheless offended when it was first reported that the late president had been a “fearsome girler” (as Ben Bradlee’s father put it).

Still, the magnetic appeal of the man (or the myth, or both) was such that when I first went to Dallas, I was inexorably drawn to the site of the assassination, the Texas School Book Depository and nearby Dealey Plaza. Standing at the window from which the shots that changed American history were fired, I quickly decided that a trained marksman could have easily done, by himself, what the Warren Commission concluded he had done.  

I remain grateful to John F. Kennedy for inspiring the conviction that public life ought to accommodate both idealism (without illusions, as JFK described his own approach) and elegance. Fifty years after his death, however, I fear that much of the Kennedy mythos is an obstacle to the flowering of Catholic witness in America—and indeed to a proper understanding of modern American history.

The myth of Camelot, for example, misses the truth about the assassination: that John F. Kennedy was a casualty of the Cold War, murdered by a dedicated communist. “Camelot” also demeaned the liberal anti-communist internationalism that Kennedy embodied; that deprecation eventually led Kennedy’s party into the wilderness of neo-isolationist irresponsibility from which it has yet to emerge. 

Keep reading on the next page

  • 1
  • 2
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
KIDS,WATERMELON,BEACH
Cerith Gardiner
New study shows that these 2 childhood habits make you a happier ...
2
EUCHARIST
Philip Kosloski
5 Fascinating facts about Jesus in the Eucharist
3
SPANISH FLU
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
4
MASS
Philip Kosloski
5 Essential things used at Mass and their symbolism
5
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
6
PRINCE PHILIP
Cerith Gardiner
The lasting lesson from the late Prince Philip
7
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.