Jackie Kennedy’s letters to Irish priest pulled from auction amid rumors family intervened

The auction of 33 letters from Jackie Kennedy to Fr. Joseph Leonard has been canceled. Did the Kennedy family make an offer?

The auction of 33 letters Jackie Kennedy wrote to Irish priest Fr. Joseph Leonard has been canceled.

The letters, owned by All Hallows College in Dublin, where Fr. Leonard lived until his death in 1964, were to be sold at auction next month by Sheppard’s Auction House in Durrow, Co. Laois. They were expected to fetch at least $3 million.

A statement released yesterday by All Hallows announced that the letters “are being withdrawn from auction at the direction of All Hallows College and the Vincentian Fathers.”

It also said that the college would be “exploring with members of Mrs. Kennedy’s family how best to preserve and curate this archive for the future.”

The Kennedy family – possibly Caroline, Jackie’s daughter, herself – is believed to have intervened, though this has not been confirmed by any official spokesperson for the Kennedys or All Hallows.

The deeply personal correspondence between Jackie and Fr. Leonard began in 1950, shortly after she visited Dublin, and was escorted on an evening out by the cosmopolitan priest, going to the theater and a French restaurant.

Over the course of 15 years and 130 pages, he became a treasured personal and spiritual confidant for the notoriously private Jackie. She trusted him with her thoughts on everything from her first, canceled engagement to stockbroker John Husted, to her delight and wariness about being a politician’s wife, to her immense grief and near loss of faith following JFK’s assassination.

She signed each of her letters to him with a big “XO,” explaining in one early letter that it meant “Hugs and kisses.”

Some of his replies to her are in the public domain via the White House Social Files at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. The rest are believed to be stored in the library’s private archives.

Singing off at the end of a letter from 1963, he wishes Jackie and President Kennedy “love to you both, I am, as I have ever been, your devoted and affectionate old friend.”

The auction of the letters, which was scheduled for June 10, had been beset by controversy from the start, with widespread public opinion that the letters should remain private or be offered to the Kennedy family.

A legal battle had also ensued between Sheppard’s Auction House and Owen Felix O’Neill, a rare books expert from Tipperary who helped with the initial valuation of the letters. He later tried to present himself as an owner of the letters and it is alleged that he leaked a number of photographs he had taken of the pages to the Boston Globe newspaper.

The Irish High Court granted an injunction against O’Neill last week and ordered on Monday that he turn over all photos and copies in his possession.

The Sheppard’s website noted yesterday that the letters had been withdrawn from auction and stated that they had begun the process of returning the letters to their vendor.

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