Saturday 7 December 2019

Discovery of will led to withdrawal of Jackie letters

Jacqueline Kennedy revealed her private thoughts in letters to an Irish priest
Jacqueline Kennedy revealed her private thoughts in letters to an Irish priest
Jackie Kennedy
Philip Sheppard
Fr Leonard with Jackie Kennedy

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

THE discovery of a will left by the Irish priest who corresponded with Jackie Kennedy in the 1950s and 1960s played a crucial part in the dramatic withdrawal from auction of her letters, the Irish Independent has learned.

A previously unknown will left by Fr Joseph Leonard only came to light last weekend, according to sources close to his religious order, the Vincentian Fathers.

Earlier this week the order used the document to assert ownership over the letters, which were being sold by All Hallows College in Dublin.

Up to that point the college, which was a Vincentian seminary until the late 1980s but is now under the umbrella of Dublin City University, had claimed ownership of the 33 letters.

The correspondence began before her marriage to US president John F Kennedy and lasted until after his assassination.

It had been expected to fetch up to €3m at an auction next month.

The move by the religious order, which had grown uncomfortable about the proposed sale, allied with a threat by the Kennedy family to sue the college on copyright grounds, prompted the abandonment of the auction.

The order, the college and representatives of the Kennedy family are now locked in talks to decide what to do with the letters.

The Irish Independent understands previous efforts had been made to find a will for Fr Leonard, but these had proved fruitless.

As a result, it was thought Fr Leonard died intestate and his possessions went to All Hallows, where he had lived for 25 years before his death in 1964.

However, a further archival search conducted by representatives of the Vincentian Fathers finally uncovered a will over the weekend.

The one-page document made no mention of the Kennedy letters. However, it stated Fr Leonard's wish that his possessions be turned over to the order after his death.

The document is understood to have been a standard will similar to those made by most priests in the order.

Mrs Kennedy began writing to Fr Leonard in 1950 after meeting him on a student visit to Ireland.

They corresponded for 14 years, up until the time of his death.

During that time Mrs Kennedy confided in the priest about major events in her life, including her engagement to the then-Senator Kennedy and his assassination in 1963.

But the existence of the letters was not widely known outside All Hallows.

Their potential value was only realised earlier this year when they were seen by a valuer. Sheppard's Irish Auction House in Durrow, Co Laois, was due to handle the sale next month.

Eamon Devlin, the Provincial of the Vincentian Fathers, travelled to the auction house, along with a representative of All Hallows, on Wednesday evening to arrange for the handover of the letters to the order.

Rev Devlin declined to comment to the Irish Independent and his office referred all queries to a public relations firm, Young Communications.

The PR firm issued a statement saying the order had nothing to add to a previous statement, which announced the abandonment of the sale but did not give reasons for the decision.

Auctioneer Philip Sheppard said he was in the process of returning the archive and items related to the archive, but declined to comment in detail.

He said the abandonment of the auction was "a surprise", before adding: "It is not unusual for something to be withdrawn or whatever. But there you go. It is not the end of the world."

No comment was available from Caroline Kennedy, the only surviving child of John F and Jackie Kennedy, who is known to have opposed the auction.

The US embassy in Tokyo, where she is ambassador, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News