1917–1963 PRESIDENT FROM 1961 TO 1963
When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a candidate for president, his religious affiliation made a great deal of difference to many Americans. The question of Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism animated the 1960 election. It provided an analog to such elections as those of 1800 and 1928, when the religions of Thomas Jefferson and Al Smith played a crucial role. In 1960, many Americans voted for or against Kennedy simply because he was a Roman Catholic.
Several years after the election, a journalist named Jim Bishop published a book entitled A Day in the Life of President Kennedy.1 Its cover contained a photograph of President Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and their two young children, Caroline and John, standing in front of Joseph Kennedy’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida (which had a chapel), following a private service on Easter Sunday. Since Bishop’s book dealt with a typical weekday in President Kennedy’s life, the inevitable implication was that formal religion and the institutional, worshipping church mattered so much to Kennedy that he regularly attended daily Mass, as his mother, Rose Kennedy, did.
Both of John F. Kennedy’s parents came from affluent and influential Irish American families. Born in Boston in 1890, his mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, was the daughter of the colorful Irish American politician John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a three-term congressman and three-term mayor of Boston. His father, Joseph (“Joe”) Patrick Kennedy, came from a similarly well-to-do Boston background. Operating saloons and other businesses, he rose to positions of influence in the Irish American community and in the Democratic Party of Massachusetts.
Conducted in the private chapel of Archbishop William Cardinal O’Connell, the marriage of Joe and Rose in 1914 displayed the status of the Kennedy and Fitzgerald families. Ultimately, the couple had five daughters and four sons, with John F. Kennedy as the second child. Although concerns