By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
Bishop Kevin J. Farrell recently sat down with Texas Catholic reporter Cathy Harasta for a Q&A, offering his reflections on President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic U.S. president, and what he meant to Ireland, the bishop’s homeland, and to the world.
What impression did JFK and his election as the USA’s first Catholic president make on you and other young people in your community?
I was very young in 1960, but I do recall that for the first time, a Catholic who was an Irish-American had become the president of the United States.
There was a lot of high feeling and enthusiasm about this. You have to think about what life was like in the 1960s. For young people, it was a very inspirational time. We were looking for change and, underlying everything in life as a young person, we were going to change the world.
I was a member of my high school debate team, and I recall many times discussing the topic of how this new generation was going to do something completely different and much better than our parents could have ever dreamed of. Of course, that was what everybody thinks about.
Then, all of a sudden, Kennedy gets elected. He’s a young person, and he’s really young in spirit, dynamic and bigger than life.
The United States for us was the ideal country. We [in Ireland] were a small, little country—small, little village, I would say—and here we’re looking at one of our own who became the president of the United States.
But the important thing was that he created a new spirit whereby the young people were being challenged. As he said in his Inaugural Address, “The torch has been passed.”
I remember one of my teachers in high school always repeated that phrase, “The torch has been passed —You guys have got to get out there and change this world.”
They referred many times to changes we needed in Ireland at the time, but also changes that the whole world needed to experience. Ireland was very involved at that time in Africa. There were many wars going on in Africa in the 1960s. The Irish soldiers were in Africa.
We wanted to change all of this world. That’s the spirit that we had in high school.
We were involved in many social activities. President Kennedy filled us with that dynamism, that great desire to do something much better in this world.
So that’s the backdrop of what happened. For us, it was a great moment to have a great president.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on Bishop Kevin J. Farrell’s reflections of President John F. Kennedy. In the next edition, Bishop Farrell discusses the topic of “JFK and Hope.”