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Saturday 30 August 2014

No regrets: All Hallows president

The discovery of Fr Leonard's will torpedoed the auction of Jackie Kennedy's correspondence

MAEVE SHEEHAN

Published 25/05/2014 | 02:30

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Jackie Kennedy wrote numerous letters to an Irish priest
Jackie Kennedy wrote numerous letters to an Irish priest

THE president of All Hallows College has told how the eleventh-hour discovery of Fr Joseph Leonard's will at midnight last Sunday scuppered the sale of his extraordinary correspondence with Jackie Kennedy.

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Fr Patrick McDevitt, who took up his post at the cash-strapped college three years ago, has revealed how he instigated the last-ditch search for the Vincentian priest's will last weekend as controversy raged over plans to auction the correspondence.

The 33 letters between the American icon and the little-known Irish priest made international headlines when it was disclosed a fortnight ago that they were to be sold for an estimated €1m.

The letters chart Jackie Kennedy's thoughts on her courtship, marriage and the assassination of the American president, her husband, John F Kennedy.

Protests from the Kennedy family and an ugly legal spat dampened the excitement that met the discovery. The college authorities believed that Fr Leonard hadn't left a will but, given the international scrutiny, Fr McDevitt searched again last weekend.

"I had my top leaders on a Sunday night up in the archives until about 12.15pm," he said.

They found the will written on a single sheet in an unmarked box. Fr Leonard bequeathed all of his goods and possessions to his religious order, the Vincentians.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Fr McDevitt recalled his reaction: "Oh. Ok. This puts some closure to something – even though it was not in our interests... At least it brings closure to a question that people have been asking," he said.

Last week, the auction was called off. On Friday, All Hallows – which needs €2m to get through next year alone – announced that it will close its doors after 172 years. The letters are expected to revert back to the Kennedy family, once talks between the Vincentians and the Kennedy family have concluded.

Fr McDevitt has defended the decision to put the letters up for auction. He said the archives were full of artefacts but the letters between Jackie Kennedy and Fr Joe Leonard were among its most valuable assets.

"At that stage, they were in a safe in the college," said Fr McDevitt. "The conversation about selling assets again began almost as soon as I got there. One of the first things I did was to empty out the attics and the closets.

"There was no will at our place (All Hallows) or with the Vincentian leadership.

"There has never been any conversation that they belonged to the Vincentians."

The letters were scheduled to go to auction on June 10, but the Kennedy family was reportedly unhappy with the sale and questions were raised about All Hallow's right to sell them.

Fr McDevitt said that he had made no contact with the Kennedys or their representatives.

But he did get a call from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

"They just wanted to know who was the contact person for All Hallows. My impression was that it was in terms of the Kennedy family having a contact name if they needed it," he said.

Fr McDevitt admits to being disappointed at the turn of events but says he has no regrets.

"The focus now is on winding down the college," he said.

Sunday Independent

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