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Jackie Kennedy and the archbishop

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Retired archbishop dishes on Kennedy in new memoir

Retired New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan has produced a new memoir that casts light on parts of his 71-year career -- including a rare look into Jackie Kennedy's private grief in the first weeks after her husband's assassination.

In The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots, Hannan, 97, publishes a handwritten personal note addressed to him from an anguished young widow less than a month after her husband's death.

Hannan, a young auxiliary bishop in Washington, D.C., by then had already delivered Kennedy's eulogy, at Jackie Kennedy's request. Ten days later he had presided over a second Kennedy interment at Arlington National Cemetery, in which she quietly re-buried two of their children next to her husband, a daughter stillborn in 1956 and their son, Patrick, who had lived only three days after his birth four months before the assassination.

"If only I could believe that he could look down and see how he is missed and how nobody will ever be the same without him," Kennedy wrote of her husband on Dec. 20, 1963, a few days after the re-interment of the children.

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"But I haven't believed in the child's vision of heaven for a long time. There is no way now to commune with him. It will be so long before I am dead and even then I don't know if I will be reunited with him....

"Please forgive all this -- and please don't try to convince me just yet -- I shouldn't be writing this way," she concludes.

Hannan said he included the Kennedy note "after much soul-searching" to contest the post-Camelot view that the president's infidelities had made their union a loveless marriage of convenience.

Hannan believes "theirs was a relationship grounded in deep, emotional conviction until the very end."

Moreover, Hannan says, it is "one of the greatest regrets of my priesthood" that he did not reach out to Kennedy on a sustained basis in the weeks and months after the assassination.

Two years later, Hannan was transferred from his native Washington D.C., to New Orleans, then reeling from damage by Hurricane Betsy. He remained archbishop from 1965 until 1989, when he was succeeded by Archbishop Francis Schulte.

An excerpt of the memoir, including the Jackie Kennedy letter, appeared earlier this month in the online publication The Daily Beast. The book was released June 2.

By Bruce Nolan of The Times-Picayune

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