Priest's papers reveal grief of widowed Jackie Kennedy

— To a grieving nation, Jacqueline Kennedy was stoic after her husband's assassination. But over games of tennis with a priest who counseled her, she apparently revealed her feelings, including thoughts of suicide.

She wondered if God would separate her from her husband if she killed herself. She agonized over the existence of eternal life, and suggested that her young children might be better off if they were raised by the slain president's brother Robert and his wife, Ethel.

"I'm no good to them," she told the Rev. Richard McSorley, as they traded tennis strokes at Robert Kennedy's Hickory Hill estate. "I'm so bleeding inside."

McSorley, a Jesuit priest and Georgetown University theologian who died last year, counseled her to not give in to the grief. He told her to take comfort in Catholic teachings of resurrection and eternal life.

McSorley kept a typewritten diary that included his recollections of private conversations with Mrs. Kennedy. The diary and private letters were among documents he left the university's main library, which made them available this week. His recollections also are part of a new book on the Kennedy family by Newsday reporter Thomas Maier.

The release has raised questions about the propriety of a priest keeping notes on private discussions.

The Rev. Michael Baxter, an assistant professor of theology at Notre Dame University, said the informal setting for the discussions complicates the matter.

"If it was a clearly defined sacramental setting, it's hard and fast and clear" that the conversations should be kept strictly private, Baxter said. "If it was a professional relationship, a formal counseling situation, that would be rather clear, too. But if it were something else, the situation changes."

Maier, who taped interviews with McSorley and looked through his papers, said he didn't think the priest violated Mrs. Kennedy's confidences.

"I think he saw it as an eye toward history," Maier said.

Coleman McCarthy, a Georgetown University professor who was a longtime friend of McSorley's, said the priest would never intentionally hurt the Kennedy family. He said McSorley probably made the conversations public because "it was new, it was valuable, it was honest."

McSorley left 59 boxes of private papers, manuscripts and other material to Georgetown, where they are now housed in a special archival collection at the library.

Among the White House invitations, Christmas cards and prayer cards from JFK's funeral are a handful of personal notes from Mrs. Kennedy.

With bold and sweeping script, written on White House notecards and her own stationery, Mrs. Kennedy told McSorley in June 1964 that she "won't ever get over it." But she said her move to New York City with daughter Caroline and son John Jr. "will be good for me and stop me brooding."

It is the voluminous diary kept by McSorley that reveals the depth of her pain.

"I don't know how God could take him away," McSorley recalled her telling him during an early tennis lesson in April 1964, six months after the assassination.


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