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Father Oscar Huber, the Kennedy Assassination, and the News Leak Controversy: A Research Note

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 110, Number 3, January 2007
pp. 380-393 | 10.1353/swh.2007.0016

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Figure 1
Father Oscar Huber pointing to the entry in the Holy Trinity Catholic Church's Sick Call Register where he recorded the details of his administration of Last Rites to President John F. Kennedy at Parkland Memorial Hospital. Under the column of "Remarks," which he usually left blank, the Vincentian priest had written: "Assassinated in Downtown Dallas." Courtesy of the DeAndreis-Rosati Memorial Archives, DePaul University, Special Collections and Archives Department, Chicago, Illinois. 

On November 22, 1963, the Very Rev. Oscar L. Huber, C. M. administered the conditional last rites of the Roman Catholic Church to the mortally wounded Pres. John F. Kennedy. The Vincentian priest's religious service that day in Dallas, Texas, unexpectedly thrust him into the national spotlight, as the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, and several other metropolitan newspapers interviewed him about his last moments with the slain president. But the modest, soft-spoken priest found neither glory nor honor in his service that day, because Time magazine correspondent Hugh Sidey and several other members of the national news media reported that he was responsible for leaking the news of the president's death several minutes before the official White House announcement. What began as Father Huber's proverbial "fifteen minutes of fame" mutated and then stretched into a decade of attention and speculation. The purpose of this research note is to examine the evidence concerning exactly what Father Huber said and did not say about the death of President Kennedy on the afternoon of November 22, 1963. In retrospect, the matter may seem minor, but it was of vital importance to Father Huber. Moreover, it provides yet another example of the chaos and confusion that reigned in Dallas on that fateful day.

Until the day of the assassination, Father Huber had never seen a U.S. president in person. And so, shortly after noon on Friday, November 22, 1963, the seventy-year-old priest walked the three blocks from Holy Trinity Catholic Church where he served as pastor to watch President Kennedy's motorcade pass along the parade route. Only five-feet-five-inches tall, Father Huber had to stand on tiptoe to see over the heads of the other spectators who crowded the sidewalk in front of him along Lemmon Avenue. And, for a brief moment, the priest caught a glimpse of the president. Father Huber thought that President Kennedy noticed his Roman collar and waved to him. After the motorcade was out of sight, Father Huber returned to the parish rectory, eager to share his story of seeing the president with his colleagues. "It was," he later recalled, "a thrilling moment for me."

By 12:36 P.M., however, everything had changed. Father Huber was eating lunch when Father James N. Thompson, his assistant pastor, burst into the room and gasped, "The president's been shot." A television bulletin soon confirmed that President Kennedy had been wounded and was being transported to nearby Parkland Memorial Hospital, which was located within the Holy Trinity Parish. Because the two priests regularly attended to the spiritual needs of the patients there, Fathers Huber and Thompson raced to the hospital without waiting to be summoned. Shortly after they departed, a Parkland administrator telephoned the rectory at Jacqueline Kennedy's request, asking for a priest to minister to her husband. Someone told him that two priests were already en route to the hospital.

Swarms of automobiles and curious onlookers had already begun to jam the area surrounding Parkland, so it took the two priests nearly fifteen minutes to reach the emergency room entrance. While Father Thompson parked the car, Dallas police officers escorted Father Huber through the crowd of nearly two hundred bystanders and into the hospital. The scene inside was utter pandemonium. Earlier, at 12:35 P.M., just five minutes after three shots were fired at Dealey Plaza, the Lincoln Continental limousine carrying the fatally stricken President Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally, who was also unconscious and critically wounded, had arrived at the hospital. Now, as Father Huber entered, the hospital corridors were crowded with doctors, nurses, White House staff members, and political dignitaries who had been traveling...



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