Letters tell of first lady's distress after her husband was assassinated

Letters between former US first lady Jackie Kennedy and a Dublin-based priest have been handed over to the Kennedy family.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Vincentian order said they wished “to confirm that private letters, written by the late Mrs Jacqueline Kennedy to our deceased confrere, Fr Joseph Leonard, have been transferred to the Kennedy family”.

“This has taken place with regard to the respect due to what is correspondence of a private nature,” the statement said before adding that the Vincentians will be making no further comment on the matter.

The letters exchanged by Kennedy and Fr Leonard were set to be auctioned in Dublin earlier this year to raise funds for struggling All Hallows College. However, the letters were later withdrawn for sale on the insistence of the Vincentian order amid public controversy about the private nature of the correspondence. The college later announced that it would have to close down due to a lack of funds and had hoped the sale of the letters would plug the gap.

The letters had been expected to sell for as much as $1.3 million (£800,000).

One letter, dated January 1964 – just weeks after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated – revealed how the tragedy left Kennedy struggling with her Catholic faith.

“I am so bitter against God,” she wrote, but added “only he and you and I know that.”

Kennedy wrote the letters between 1950 and 1964 to Father Leonard, whom she first met when she visited Dublin as a student in 1950. They began a correspondence that continued until his death in 1964. The letters also revealed that Kennedy credited the priest with her return to Catholicism after a period when she had lapsed in the practice of her faith.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died May 19, 1994, aged 64.