John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Born in Brookline, Mass., on May 29, 1917, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the product of an Irish-American family who’d made it. He was a member of Harvard’s 1940 graduation class and entered the U.S. Navy, where he served as a PT boat commander at the height of World War II in 1944. When his boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer, the future president (despite his own injuries) brought his surviving crew members to safety.

JFK on the cover of Columbia Magazine 1961

After World War II, Kennedy joined the Knights of Columbus in 1946 on St. Patrick’s Day. He was a member of Bunker Hill Council 62 in Charlestown, Mass. On his Knights of Columbus membership application, Kennedy noted that his present occupation was “correspondent” (he was working as a reporter for the Hearst newspapers), and in the box that asked, “Do you intend changing your present occupation?” he wrote, “not sure.” Eight years later he became a Fourth Degree Knight.

Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946, and then to the Senate in 1953, the same year that he married Jacqueline Bouvier. In 1955, he won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book Profiles in Courage.

A year later he won the Democratic nomination for the office of vice president, and in 1960 he received the nomination for president from that party and went on to become our nation’s first Catholic president.

During his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961, President Kennedy made the statement: “ . . . the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.” Later in the address, he went on to say, “ . . . my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.”

These words, and other portions of his address, would go on to inspire a generation to reach new heights in volunteerism and service to humanity.

He followed up on his campaign pledges with economic programs that prompted the longest sustained growth since World War II, plans for programs to address the persistent problems of poverty, and action on the cause for equal rights and civil rights legislation. Through the Alliance for Progress and the Peace Corps (on which he worked with fellow Knight of Columbus Sargent Shriver), and other domestic programs, Kennedy offered the American people the opportunity to come to the aid of people in need, both in the United States and throughout the world.

Along with these programs, President Kennedy faced challenges on the international level including the failed Bay of Pigs invasion followed by the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also came to the aid of the people of West Berlin when the Soviet Union renewed its aggression against that portion of the divided city. Finally, his belief that both sides of the Cold War had a mutual interest in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons led to the test ban treaty of 1963.

Tragically, on November 22, 1963, after slightly more than 1,000 days in office, an assassin shot and killed President Kennedy in Dallas.

This horrible event “brought to us and to all the world grief so profound and so personal that it will not soon subside,” the Knights of Columbus Board of Directors declared. “However heavily he was occupied with the demands of high office, there poured out of him a sympathy and concern for the least of his fellow men so genuine and so spontaneous that his death brought, throughout the world, tears that are shed only for the loss of a friend.

“Taken from us in the fullness of his life, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has left with us, and with the multitudes everywhere who were inspired by his courage and heartened by his optimism and charity, a living example of a man who, in his own words, stated the rule by which he lived and to which he was faithful to the end. Greater love hath no man.”

For more information on President Kennedy, visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.