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College to close after Fr Eamon Devlin contests ownership. Photo by: CNN

Dublin priest defends stopping sale of Jackie Kennedy letters

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College to close after Fr Eamon Devlin contests ownership. Photo by: CNN

The priest who halted the sale of private letters from Jackie Kennedy to a Dublin cleric has said he did so to honor their privacy.

Fr Eamon Devlin forced All Hallows College in Dublin to abandon the auction of the letters, written by Kennedy to Fr Joseph Leonard during the 1950s and 1960s.

Father Leonard’s will revealed that he had left the letters to the Vincentian Order that Devlin heads, not the college.

The cash-strapped college, set to close due to financial problems, had hoped to raise up to $3million from the sale of the letters.

But Fr Devlin, Provincial of the Vincentian Order and a trustee of All Hallows College, has defended his actions to the Sunday Independent.

He told the newspaper that he took the actions to "honor the privacy of those two people."

The paper reports that Fr Devlin denied any financial motive and said he acted out of ‘a strong conviction’ the letters should remain private.

The failure to raise funds led to the college's announcement that it plans to close with the loss of a hundred jobs.

The 33 letters were written by Jackie O to Fr Joseph Leonard in the 1950s and 1960s and dealt with key moments in Kennedy’s life, including her engagement and her husband’s death.

She had befriended Fr Leonard when she met him on a visit to Ireland in 1950 and continued writing to him until his death in 1964.

The report says the auction was canceled after Fr Leonard’s will was found in college archives and proved the letters did not belong to the college but to the Vincentian Order.

Fr Devlin then issued a legal letter to the college, asserting ownership of the correspondence and personally took possession of the letters and they remain with the order.

He told the Sunday Independent that he is aware of criticism of his actions but insists he has done the right thing.

Fr Devlin said: “I know we are coming in for criticism. We’ll have to just live with that. People are entitled to draw their conclusions if they wish.

“I really believe it was a private correspondence and that is how I have thought of it from the beginning. I determined from the moment I became aware of it to respect that.”

The priest refused to say what will now become of the letters or whether or not he was engaged in any dialogue with the Kennedy estate.

He added: “I am honestly not trying to be obtuse, but I am not going to answer any questions. That is my own personal conviction about it.”

The future of the Kennedy letters remains unclear.

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