June 2, 2010— -- The president took his advice, Jackie insisted he give the eulogy at JFK's funeral, and never-before-published letters from her reveal that the Kennedys really loved each other. An exclusive excerpt from Archbishop Philip Hannan's new memoir:
November 25, 1963. As I slowly climbed the familiar, winding steps to the elevated pulpit in the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C., I felt as numb and emotionally exhausted as every other American struggling to make sense of the stunningly brutal murder of the 43rd president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
My own grieving, however, would have to wait. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy had asked that I deliver the eulogy for her husband -- and my friend. Having met the dashing war hero and wealthy, if unknown Massachusetts congressman in the late '40s, our friendship had continued into the White House, where -- when Catholic doctrine jousted with political instincts -- I, secretly, counseled him.
Still, I should not be standing where I was. Had the Kennedys followed church protocol, it would have been the Archbishop of Washington, Archbishop Patrick J. O'Boyle not I, an auxiliary bishop serving under him, giving the eulogy. But Jackie wanted me. So when Sargent Shriver pointed out that technically it had to be the archbishop, she dug in her heels.
"Absolutely not," she snapped. "It's going to be Hannan or no one. If they ask, just tell them I got hysterical and you couldn't straighten me out."
Following the requiem Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral, the majestic funeral procession began its long, elegant journey to Arlington National Cemetery, where the president's casket was placed on the mechanical platform suspended above his newly dug grave.
Moments later, Cardinal Cushing stepped forward to read the prayers of interment. Finishing, he lightly touched Jackie's arm: "Now for Bobby's remarks," he murmured, per the funeral plan approved by the first lady. But she didn't budge. "No," she said quietly, "No." Thinking she had simply forgotten the lineup, the cardinal repeated his verbal cue. "No," Jackie replied even more firmly. "No. I said 'No.'" With unerring instinct, she had correctly judged that enough had been said. Anything else would be anti-climactic. Unobtrusively, Bobby, adhering to his sister-in-law's directive, slipped a paper back into his suit pocket. Stepping, purposefully, away from the others, the former first lady walked over to the unlit Eternal Flame, where, handed a torch, she reached down to ignite one of history's most iconic symbols. Returning to her place, the Army officer in charge of the interment detail gallantly presented Jackie the crisply folded American flag. Taking our cue, Cardinal Cushing and I approached Mrs. Kennedy to offer our final words of condolence. Exhausted, her lovely face streaked with dried tears, she clasped my hand. "Thanks for the sermon," she said. "I thought it was great."
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