Fabulous Fridays: Kennedy and the CYO

“I can’t imagine a greater cause in which to be engaged.” -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 cyo  Throughout my writing career, there is one story that stands above all of the others. I was working on my book CYO IN INDIANAPOLIS & CENTRAL INDIANA when I contacted a local woman about her and her late husband’s  involvement in the Catholic Youth Organization. She was a very sweet woman who I spoke with for about a half hour and who kept telling me that she “didn’t really have any memories worth sharing.” Like a lot of kids, she played sports and participated in a number of activities with the group, but didn’t feel her recollections were any different from thousands of other kids in the area. She mentioned offhandedly that in 1963 she went to the CYO convention in New York and talked about staying in a nice hotel across from Radio City Music Hall but could not remember the name of the hotel, the theme of the convention or any of the kids she met there. Just when I thought I would have to give up on the interview, she causally said, “Of course that was the year Kennedy showed up.”

“You mean, THE Kennedy?” I asked, in a disbelieving voice. “Or one of those Kennedys no one cares about?”

She seemed perplexed by my question. “Well, um…he was the President at the time.”

JFK 2   NOW, I had a story and for the life of me I don’t know why she didn’t start the conversation with that little piece of news! She mentioned that JFK was in town on another matter when he heard that the CYO was meeting and he wanted to stop by and say hi to the kids. Back then, there were no iPhones or Twitter feeds to let people know instantly that the President was in the house, so word of mouth spread, and those who heard the news, crowded into the ballroom to hear the first (and so far, only) Catholic President speak. I asked about his words (which she could no longer remember), what he was wearing (she didn’t know, she said she was too short to see him well) and anything else I could think of that might have been important. Finally…she hit me with the kicker:

“Funny thing, a week later he was dead,” she said. “We were the last group of kids that he spoke to. he was assassinated exactly one week later.”

JFK Youth   Over the next three hours I went half crazy trying to find ANYTHING to corroborate her story. I mean, an unscheduled Presidential visit with the CYO? There was NOTHING on the web about this until I found some obscure mention of the car he was riding in that day that connected the dates and proved that she just might be right. Finally, I went to the Kennedy Library site and typed in the date. To my astonishment, they had the audio of the speech Kennedy made to the CYO kids and I was able to cite a portion of it in my book…

   “I realize this meeting is not only a meeting of the youth today, but those of whom we expect so much in the future. Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the other systems that have been tried. It is the most difficult, it requires more of you: discipline, character, self-restraint, a willingness to serve the public interest as well as our own private interests. All of these priests and sisters who have gathered you fro all over the Uniited States don’t do it because they want you to do well…it is because  they regard you as the future leaders of the United states, as future leaders of a great, free country. That’s why I come here today, not just because you are doing well or because you are good students, but because we expect something of you…

    I hope that you will spend your time well now and I hope that in a long life, you will recognize your obligations to the Great Republic and to those who need your help. To help those millions of boys and girls who drop out of school, who can’t find work, who live in underprivileged  areas…they look to you and they look to me to serve, so I hope that all of you will serve. Serve not only your families and churches, but serve your country. It deserves the best. It has been generous to us all and we must be generous in return. I congratulate you all on what you have done and most of all, I congratulate you on what you are going to do.” 

john_f_kennedy   In honor of the 50th anniversary of the remarks he offered the Catholic Youth Organization as well as the tragedy of his death , I dedicate this week’s Fabulous Friday to the memory of  JFK…the Catholic president who asked us all to give that little extra, look for ways to serve each other and to never stop being our best.

Full audio of the speech can be listened to at:




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