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Letters from a 'sad little housewife'

Jacqueline Kennedy's correspondence with Irish priest shows turmoil she held inside

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For more than a decade, Jacqueline Kennedy revealed pieces of her life in ink that she never spoke of -- feelings about John F. Kennedy's womanizing, political aspirations and assassination that, she wrote, made her "bitter against God."

She said she was overcome by ambition, "like MacBeth": "Maybe I'm just dazzled and picture myself in a glittering world of crowned heads and Men of Destiny -- and not just a sad little housewife... That can be very glamorous from the outside -- but if you're in it -- and you're lonely -- it could be a Hell." After a year of marriage to the future president, she said, "I love being married much more than I did even in the beginning."

From 1950 to 1964, she wrote nearly 30 letters to an Irish priest, Joseph Leonard, a man she met only twice. "It's so good in a way to write all this down and get it off your chest -- because I never do really talk about it with anyone," she said. The newly discovered letters will be sold at an auction next month.

She wrote more than 130 pages on personal stationery, on her father-in-law Joseph P. Kennedy's stationery and on the stationery of the White House. Together, the correspondence offers insight into the private life of Jacqueline Kennedy -- or Jacqueline Bouvier, as she was known when the letters started.

She spoke of the stockbroker she nearly married before JFK as well as her early fears that the president might be like her father, who "loves the chase and is bored with the conquest -- and once married needs proof he's still attractive so flirts with other women and resents you."

The letters will be sold June 10 at Sheppard's Irish Auction House in Durrow, a small town located in southern Ireland.

The archive is expected to fetch up to $1.6 million. Auctioneer Philip Sheppard wouldn't say how the auction house came to have the letters.

Jacqueline Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, currently U.S. ambassador to Japan, declined comment.

Sheppard said the entire tone of the letters was of two friends talking and sharing news and observations on books.

"He has been dead 50 years and she 20. This is in my opinion an exchange between friends, not a confessional thing," he told The Washington Post. "I've never heard of a confession over the Atlantic."

He said he'd not heard from anyone related to either Kennedy or Leonard about the release of the letters.

Kennedy, Sheppard said, was an exchange student in Ireland and had been referred to Leonard by one of his relatives, a college professor in French literature, Kennedy's major.

Since all 33 of the letters were from her to him, you only hear Leonard's voice or perspective through her responses. The tone, Sheppard said, was not pastoral but "more of a friendship. The correspondence seemed like two people in the same age group."

Which was striking, he said, considering their age difference.

"You see this exchange and wonder: What's going on? You realize these are people who have similar interests."

There is nothing in Catholic law preventing a priest from sharing something like a letter; canon law requires confidentiality around the confessional, not regular correspondence.

According to The Irish Times, many of the letters read like a personal diary, often ending in "Xs" and "Os" that, she wrote to Leonard, "mean hugs & kisses."

Irish Times deputy editor Denis Staunton said the reporter who broke the story, Michael Parsons, was told about the letters by the Irish auction house that got them on consignment. Parsons spent weeks with the letters, checking all references to make sure the information checked out, Staunton said.

"The letters give us the opportunity to read about Jackie Kennedy in her own words as she experienced some of these moments in her life," he said. "At first, Michael couldn't believe what he was reading... He said it was an experience getting to know Jackie Kennedy in a way he never thought he would."

The Irish Times had an arrangement with the auctioneer that allowed it to quote only a certain number of letters, Staunton said. Not a single letter was printed in full.

Still, the excerpts alone give a detailed account of key years in Jacqueline Kennedy's life, Staunton said.

A 21-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy met Leonard, then 73, in 1950 when she was visiting Ireland. She saw him a second time with JFK, then a U.S. senator, when they were in Dublin five years later.

In her last letter to the priest -- and in one of the most moving, Staunton said -- Jacqueline Kennedy told the priest: "I feel more cruelly every day what I have lost -- I always would have rather lost my life than lost Jack."

Leonard died in 1964.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 D5

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