The early 1960s proved to be a whirlwind time for the United States and the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. The international events of this era would affect the entire world, very much including the Missionary Society of Saint Columban.
In 1961, U.S. Catholics reacted with pride when their nation inaugurated its first Roman Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. The Columbans were familiar with President Kennedy, as he had given a speech at their seminary in Milton, Massachusetts while he was a U.S. Senator.
The specter of the Cold War and international communism seemed to cast its shadow over everything during this time, and President Kennedy would soon face foreign policy challenges with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the latter of which, in late 1962, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
The Columbans were already familiar with the threat of communism, through their experiences in China, Vietnam, and elsewhere, and they sympathized with the anti-communist struggle. In the meantime, the Second Vatican Council continued, with a number of Columbans in attendance at the sessions in Rome.
In November 1963, communist proponent Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. The Columbans, along with U.S. citizens of all political persuasions, reacted with shock and horror.
In the autumn of 1964, Columban Fathers Owen McGrath and Ambrose P. Gallagher visited President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, in the hospital where Senator Kennedy was recovering from injuries from a plane crash. The two Columbans presented Senator Kennedy with a transcript of his brother’s speech to the Columbans at Milton, and a copy of a film of President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland.
It was a fitting tribute to the U.S. President who had influenced the Columbans. It was also a reminder of the international changes that were underway and would continue to affect the Society.