Tuesday 20 February 2018

Princess and the priest – a bond that lasted a lifetime

Jackie Kennedy and Fr Leonard's intimate letters enhance the good reputation of both, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Jackie and her husband JFK
Jackie and her husband JFK
Ruth Dudley Edwards

Ruth Dudley Edwards

Is All Hallows wrong to make public the letters Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy sent Father Joseph Leonard? She may have at one time been as famous as the Queen of England, but she was notoriously private – a publisher who elected never to write the autobiography the book trade begged for.

Having read what's been published of the letters, I don't think we need agonise abut this. They were intimate letters but she wasn't confessing her sins, just talking frankly, and the correspondence enhances the reputations of both. Father Leonard, who befriended Jackie in Dublin in 1950 when she was only 20, was until his death in 1964 a constructive, loving friend throughout an extraordinary period in her life, which included a broken engagement, a marriage that propelled her on to the world stage, a miscarriage, the death of a baby and her husband's assassination.

Jackie and the priest were intellectual equals and her enquiring mind, her frankness, her affectionate nature and her appreciation of an old man's wisdom helped them bridge an enormous age gap. "I look upon your friendship as one of the greatest consolations and blessings of a long life," he said once, and her letters to him show that though they met so rarely, his feelings were fully reciprocated. "Your devoted Jacqueline" was a typical signing off. How could one not be moved by what he wrote after Jack's murder, asking Jackie "to let me unite my simple feelings of love, grief and desolation to your profound and heartfelt ones"?

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