Clergy usually opine on spiritual matters.
Newspaper editors preach on civic affairs.
But the assassination of President John F. Kennedy blurred those usual distinctions, and in its aftermath, voices of both met on the pages of The Springfield Daily News.
Although the wounds and shocks felt by all faiths led to interfaith services, St. Raphael’s Church had special reason to honor the nation’s first Catholic chief executive.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, Monsignor James H. Hoban, dean of the Springfield Deanery, announced that services at 6 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and noon would focus on supplications for the “repose of the President’s soul.”
Just as the televised shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald intruded into the lives of those returning from those services, businesses interrupted their usual schedules for at least half a day Monday to allow workers to attend special services honoring the late president.
The newspaper itself offered instruction on proper civic rituals to be observed for the 30-day period of mourning.
“In the morning, (the flag) it should be raised completely up the mast (or staff) and then run down to half-mast (or staff). At sunset … correct procedure calls for the flag to be run to the peak and then lowered slowly.”
Students at Lutheran Wittenberg University honored Kennedy by putting 1,219 signatures on a scroll addressed to the president’s widow, Jacqueline, and sent a note informing her the $427.28 collected at the service would be forwarded to the family another man killed that weekend: Dallas Patrolman J.D. Tippit.
In Yellow Springs, the Vernay Foundation stepped forward to donate $100,000 to a new library in Yellow Springs.
“His loss to the people is so great that we want in some way to preserve his memory in our beloved town,” said Sergius Vernet, wife of the company founder and president of the foundation.
The Rev. James N. Urquhart of Oakland Presbyterian Church spoke of the intimacy of the moment to everyone in the presence of the modern age.
“The fact of death has been brought into our homes via all means of communication. The sadness in the White House overflows into your house and mine. Our thoughts keep returning to that family that grieves the loss of one who was a husband, and a father, as well as the Chief executive. We all felt close to our President and his wife when their lives were touched with sadness in the death of their baby this past summer. And now that family with its little children seems closer to us than ever.”
At a special Monday service at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Dr. Kenneth Murphy of First Christian Church also spoke to the frailty of life and the courage required to live it.
“John Kennedy knew the dangers, the trials of public life, and he accepted them willingly and in the same spirit as he accepted the long days of combat,” Murphy said. “Because he had known combat, death was no stranger to him. He walked long in its shadow. The faith that sustained him then goes with him now.”
“This is not a time to spend our time in futile hatreds,” Murphy added. “No group, no faction was responsible for this tragedy. We must not let bitterness destroy our seeing. The sickness of the soul that led one man to this irresponsible act is part of the satanic darkness that is the common enemy of all men.
“Let us go in our common struggle against the terrible disease of the soul that grows through the years to explode in such tragedy.”
On its editorial pages, The Daily News sounded a similar tone.
“As the world sends sympathy and heartfelt compassion to his family, it is time for this country to draw closer now and march together as Americans, under President Lyndon Johnson, toward the goals which this nation as a whole so closely embraces.”
“If the nation can finish his work,” another editorial said, “it will build a lasting memorial to a great man, and the principles for which he stood will not perish from the earth.
More soul searching was evident in yet another piece that reflected on other fissures that would open up in the turbulent years to come.
“Can the democratic experiment succeed … when individuals are so blinded by prejudices, even convictions, that they can tolerate no other point of view?
“How often has each of us abdicated his obligation to contribute to a climate of temperance and justice? To what extent has the affluent seclusion of the mid-20th century cloaked us in cocoons that abdicate the public arena to the emotionally deformed?”
Another editorial simply asked: Why?
A few days later, at Thanksgiving, Dr. John Rilling, professor of practical theology at Wittenberg’s Hamma Divinity School, suggested reasons for students to give thanks.
“You and I drink of the waters that others have brought from the well-springs of freedom, from the Pilgrim Fathers and the first patriots down to the last brave men who have died for America and Americans …. President John F. Kennedy and Police Officer Tippit.
“Last Friday’s tragedy cannot be undone,” he added, “but perhaps, and please God, it will come true that we, too, may make an offering of our lives in service to God and country that these sacrifices of last Friday may not be in vain.”