The intercom surprised us during high school chemistry lab. It was about 1:45 p.m. EST. It piped in the radio. This had never been done before. We became silent. President Kennedy had been shot during a motorcade in Dallas, and he had been taken to nearby Parkland Hospital. They didn't seem to know how serious he had been wounded.
The intercom went off. We went to our seats; our teacher, a gray-haired man with a distinguished moustache and one leg, wheelchaired himself up to his desk in front of the room. He grabbed his crutches behind his desk. Facing us, he pushed himself up and folded his hands in prayer.
"Let us now pray to whomever your God is that the President will be spared," he said.
There was silence again. We sat and waited.
The intercom came back on. A new report: The President had been hit in the head. Witnesses had seen two men and a woman running from the Texas School Book Depository.
Seconds turned into minutes when another report flashed. A priest was seen leaving Parkland Hospital where the President had been taken. Apparently he had given the President the last rites. But it was worse. He said the President was dead . . .
Then it was made it official: "President John F. Kennedy, the 36th President of the United States, was pronounced dead today at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas at approximately 1:00 p.m. central standard time."
Our teacher slumped down and started to cry; shortly after, we were dismissed from school.
I got home early and to my surprise found my father there. He had voted for Nixon in the election yet looked shaken. After that I don't recall much of what happened in the next four days except seeing Oswald shot on live TV and the President's coffin being pulled by horses, their hooves clunking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington to a funereal beat of military drums.
Our country was never the same. In less than two years we were committed to a land war in Southeast Asia. I had entered college away from home, living in the dorms. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. During my junior year, I took a course with a Franciscan professor. Called "Images of Man," it was a survey off great works of literature. In the course, Father Stephen as he was known then, presented a compelling justification for the philosophies in works of Plato, Lucretius, Seneca, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, and Herman Hesse.One night I went down to the student lounge to get something from a vending machine. Father Stephen, a man of medium height and build whose head always seemed to be tilted slightly in deep thought, was in the lounge. This was very unusual, and even more unusual was that he looked distraught.
"They killed him," he said, sounding a bit choked up.
I just looked at him.