Assassination anniversary marked at cathedral Mass

SOUTH END -- At a special Mass to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Nov. 22, the celebrant and older members of the congregation recalled where they were on that 1963 day.

Those not yet born at the time of the assassination, including a group of students from Cathedral High School, heard what it was like to receive the news that the Brookline native and beloved president had been shot and killed in Dallas, Texas.

"In a sense, that day it seemed that the world had come to a complete standstill," cathedral rector Father Kevin J. O'Leary said in his homily.

The shooting of the president by Lee Harvey Oswald marked a point in American history that captured the attention of the United States and the world, as Father O'Leary recalled.

"A television audience of billions of people around the world watched Walter Cronkite announce the 35th president of the United States was dead, and there is a saying that says everybody remembers where they were at the time," Father O'Leary said.

He said that before celebrating the Mass he had seen a news story about a woman recalling the day the president was shot. The woman said she was sitting in her first-grade classroom at a school in Boston.

"I was in the seventh grade at the same school, the Gate of Heaven, and I remember sister saying, 'Please sisters, step out into the corridor and close the door," he said.

"A few minutes later, each of the sisters came back to the classroom and told us that the president had been shot," he said.

Father O'Leary said he felt it important to share the experience with young people at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, despite the somber tone.

"We are grateful that you can celebrate in a sense and remember and pray for this man whose idealism was contagious," Father O'Leary said.

The Mass was one of a series of events around Boston and throughout Massachusetts to remember one of Boston's favorite sons.

Daniel O'Connor of St. Mary's Parish in Milton was reminded at the Mass of his experience that day.

"Fifty years ago I remember when it happened. I was an electrician by trade, when we were working out in Harvard. The guy came in and said the president was killed, so we dropped everything, we closed down, and we left there," O'Connor told The Pilot after the Mass.

He said as a younger man he saw the Kennedy family at Cape Cod often, on camping trips, so he reacted harshly when one of the men on the job site said President Kennedy was "no different than anybody else."

"I was ready to punch him in the mouth. I really was," O'Connor said.

He also remembered President Kennedy being so loved that even the Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev came to the United States to pay his respects.

He said the images from the time still move him, because of the potential he saw in President Kennedy as a leader.

"To this present day it hurts my feelings that it happened, because he was doing a great job for the country," he said.