Friday, November 22nd, 2013
Local woman shares her memories of tragic events
The death of a president: 50 years later
By Kathy Thompson
Sister Barbara Ann Hoying was a young nun teaching school in Virginia in 1963, excited that she was just across the Potomac River from the Washington Monument and the hub of Washington, D.C.
The Carthagena native also was excited about her first-graders and the lessons they learned each day. But that excitement turned to shock Nov. 22, 1963, with an announcement from the principal over the public address system that President John F. Kennedy had been killed.
"We were all just stunned," Hoying, 75, said, her hands moving to the cross hanging from her neck, her blue eyes misting slightly as she remembered that day 50 years ago.
Hoying, now a retired sister of the Precious Blood Society in Dayton, said it meant something special to her to be that close to the events that swirled around the capital the next few days. She doesn't remember exactly what she told her students that morning, but she knows she led them in prayer.
"Then it got surreal," Hoying said. "Here I was, a little farm girl from Ohio, a young sister just beginning her religious life. And then, sadly, I got the opportunity to go and view president Kennedy's casket while it lie at the rotunda."
Ohio U.S. House Representative Charles Vanik, a Democrat from the 21st District, arranged for the staff of the school to pay their final respects to Kennedy while he lie in state at the U.S. Capitol building.
Kennedy's body had been brought back to the White House the night he was killed and laid in the East Room for 24 hours before being transported in the flag-draped coffin on a horse-drawn caisson to the Capitol.
All day Sunday, in freezing weather, hundreds of thousands of people stood in line for as long as 10 hours waiting to be allowed into the building to view the coffin. But not the nuns.
"And yet, while they waited, we were allowed in through a special door," Hoying said. "We had a little bit of a wait, but not like thousands of others."
The sisters went together wearing their long gray habits with black veils.
She witnessed the caisson bring Kennedy's coffin up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol then members of the military slowly and carefully carried the coffin up the steps.
"There was a lot of pageantry," Hoying said. "It was completely silent. Except for the hooves of the horses and the very faint drum beats, no one really said anything."
Hoying said no one seemed to mind or notice the freezing temperatures.
"What we were all doing was watching the casket, watching the military, watching the crowd and thinking to ourselves 'could this be real?'" Hoying said.
Impressive to her was the pomp and circumstance of the procession and the complete respect the crowd exhibited that night.
"It was as if the world had stopped," Hoying said. "This was history and we were a part of it."
Once inside the rotunda, Hoying said she was just feet away from the coffin.
"I think I was walking through my shock," she said. "Again, no one spoke. There was a heaviness in the crowd. A reverence. We honored a fallen president with our spirit of silence."
And then Jacqueline Kennedy walked in holding hands with each of her children, John and Caroline.
"I was so close to her," Hoying said. "I remember thinking here is a young woman who just lost her husband. The president's wife is now a widow and will have to raise those children on her own."
Hoying felt privileged not only to be present at the viewing, but to be Catholic.
"President Kennedy was very convicted to his faith," Hoying said. "He, in my opinion, put his faith into his principles and decisions, but he didn't impose his faith on people. He truly believed humans are not at all perfect, but he believed in authenticity."
Hoying said she is not sure if young people today completely understand how Kennedy's death changed a nation.
"I think sometimes what happens in one generation doesn't have the effect on another generation," she said.
To Hoying, Kennedy was an inspiration.
"He taught us that we can make a difference in the lives of another, each day of each year," she said. "We can be good and genuine and focus on being the best person we can be."
As for the conspiracy theories that continue to follow Kennedy's death, Hoying said people hate mysteries.
"There has to be a solution, an explanation," she said. "There may never be one. But we lost a great leader and man."