So when he was shot in Dallas on that terrible day, fifty years ago, they called for a priest to come and administer the last rites of the Church in the emergency room at Parkland Memorial Hospital.
The priest who responded was a Vincentian priest, Father Oscar L. Huber, who served at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Oak Lawn community of Dallas. Father Huber later described in an interview what he saw there in the emergency room:
The President was lying on a portable table. He was completely covered with a sheet. His wife was standing beside him. I immediately proceeded to administer the last rites.
Father Huber told how he removed the sheet in order to anoint the President’s head, giving him the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. He had already given him conditional absolution—conditional because he was uncertain whether the President was already dead, in which case it would have been too late and his soul would have been in the presence of God.
Time Magazine, in its issue of Friday, November 29, 1963, told the story:
At 12:45, two Roman Catholic priests went swiftly into the emergency room. A policeman came out. “How is he?” a reporter asked. “He’s dead,” came the reply. Assistant Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff appeared. To a deluge of questions, he screamed, “I can’t say, I just can’t say!”
Last Rites. But he was dead. It was about 1 p.m. The Very Rev. Oscar L. Huber drew back a sheet that covered the President’s face, and anointed John Kennedy’s forehead with oil. He gave him conditional absolution—tendered when a priest has no way of knowing the victim’s mind or whether the soul has yet left the body. In Latin, Father Huber said, “I absolve you from all censures and sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. If you are living, may the Lord by this holy anointing forgive whatever you have sinned. Amen. I, by the faculty given to me by the Apostolic See, grant to you a plenary indulgence and remission of all sins and I bless you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Then he covered the President’s face once more with the sheet and in English offered the prayers for the Dying and for the Departed Soul: “May the most clement Virgin Mary, Mother of God, the most loving consoler of the afflicted, commend to her Son the soul of this servant, John . . . Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I sleep and rest in peace in your holy company . . . Grant, O Lord, that while we here lament the departure of Your servant, we may ever remember that we are most certainly to follow him. Give us grace to prepare for that last hour by a good life, that we may not be surprised by a sudden death but be ever watching, for when Thou shall call that soul, we may enter eternal glory through Christ, Our Lord. Eternal rest grant him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.”
Jacqueline Kennedy stood next to the President’s body, and with a clear voice, prayed with the others: “Our Father, Who art in Heaven . . .” and “Hail, Mary, full of grace. . . .”