When the President Died

Fifty years ago—on November 22, 1963—our parish hired a photographer to come and take a group photo of all of us:  the priests, the sisters, the high school students, the elementary school students, the teachers, the maintenance crew…. All of us, girls and boys, the wise and the still-learning, the young and the oh-so-restless.

I was there.  So was my future husband (although we wouldn’t meet until three months later).  And my four sisters.  And (I think) my baby brother.  And my six future sisters-in-law, whom I recognized for their signature long blonde hair, although we’d never met.  And a couple of future brothers-in-law.

Almost everyone who was a part of my world was there—shuffling our feet, standing in the November cold in that parking lot.  Who knows, maybe you were there, too!

We were smiling for the camera when there was some excited whispering, then a solemn announcement:  The President had been shot.

In an instant, the happy, I-can-see-that-cute-guy-across-the-parking-lot mood was gone.

In an instant, the group photo achieved an iconic status:  From that time hundreds of people, whenever we were asked

“Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”,

would all have the same answer.  We were standing in the parking lot at St. Francis Cabrini in Allen Park, Michigan, with the new high school behind us, watching the photographer on the rectory roof.

We all filed silently into the church to pray.


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  • Kelly Thatcher

    So did we. I was in 5th grade at choir practice. The nuns led us into the chapel to pray. And so we did…and so still I do.

  • Susan Peterson

    I was in band rehearsal in 8th grade. Someone opened the door and said something to the player nearest the door, then the word traveled through the band, while we were still playing. It was public school, no prayers there. I remember on my way back to my locker seeing Mr. Cooney, my social studies teacher, sobbing in his empty classroom.