April 20, 1961:
He ran into his parent’s house, out of breath and looking worried. His dad was gazing blankly out the window, while his mom was curled up in her favorite chair, hugging their dog as close as she could. His mom was softly sobbing into the dog’s soft and fluffy fur. He stopped in his tracks.
His mom looked up, tears streaked down her face. His dad looked over at him and started in his son’s direction.
“What’s happened, the son’s foreign accent thick. ‘Did you hear about the invasion? How did it go?”
His father said nothing and pointed in the direction of the kitchen. When they were both there, he asked his dad again.
“Papa, what’s happened? Have you heard about the invasion? Papa? What?”
He could tell his dad couldn’t speak. Tears just fell from his eyes, and he clutched at his stomach like he was in pain.
“Papa? What’s happened, Papa?”
“Al…Ale…” was all he could get out.
His dad bent to his knees and fell on his kneecaps.
“Yes, Alexander, my brother.”
His dad just said the words, pushed the words, out of his mouth. They were soft, quiet, scratchy, trembling.
Alexander is dead.”
His dad then dissolved on the floor, in uncontrollable, loud, howling screams, crying, sobbing.
“My son is dead! My son is dead!”
He stood there, stunned, as his dad fell apart, in shock, his heart falling into his feet, his soul hardening inside himself. He held his head, not wanting to allow the reality of his brother’s death into him.
“kennedy! Kennedy! You will pay!” he yelled, stomping through the house. “You will pay!”
Only loud, painful screams of horriffic grief could be heard in the house.
They tried to keep the old priest as comfortable as possible, but everyone knew it wouldn’t be long now. His breathing was getting more shallow, and he couldn’t lay still. His voice was hoarse and hollow.
“I…I…I need Father Richards.”
“What for, Father Donnelly?”
“I…I…I have to con…con…confess s…s…something.”
“What could you possibly have to confess now?”
“Take it easy, Father. We’ll get Father Richards.”
Father Allen opened the door and spoke to Father Jenkins.
“He wants Father Richards.”
Father Donnelly sat up suddenly.
“I…n…n…need F…F…Father R…R…Richards!” he almost shouted.
“He’s on the way. Just sit back, and relax, and not strain yourself.”
“Oooooooooh,” he sat back and closed his eyes.
“There’s not much time left,” Father Allen told the other men.
“What could he possibly have to confess? The man has been a model priest, a saint.”
“I don’t know, but he needs to relieve his soul before he dies.”
Father Allen propped up the old priest, steadied his head, then helped him drink a few small sips out of the glass by his bed.
“N…no, I ca…ca…can’t die y…yet. I haven’t con…con…confessed yet.”
“What is he talking about?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he even knows.”
Father Donnelly sighed heavily then leaned back again on his pillows. He still thrashed around in his bed, as if he were being tormented. It was so close to his dying hour, and he had anything but peace.
The other priests tried to keep the old Father Donnelly as comfortable as possible. He was restless, uneasy, needing to cleanse his soul as soon as he could so he could die peacefully.
In all the years the other priests had known him, they had never seen him in so much internal pain. He was always so calm, cool, and collected, the perfect picture of priestly peace.
Father Richards had taken Father Donnelly under his wing when Father Donnelly first arrived there, in late 1963, and the two had grown very close over the years. Now, even as he died, the old priest needed his mentor.
“Where is Father Richards?” asked Father Josephs. “He doesn’t have much time left.”
“He must be tied up or he would have been here by now, offered Father Johnson.
“We must keep praying for his obviously tortured soul,” said Father Christopher, and urgency in his voice. “Pray our Sacred Mary gives him peace in his going.”
“Someone should give him Last Rites. I’ll get Father Delaney. Where is Father Richards?” Father Knowles wondered, a little irate now.
“We must keep praying for Father Donnelly’s tormented soul.”
As they prayed, the moments passed quickly. Father Delany walked up to them and prayed with them.
“Father Delaney, have you come to perform Last Rites?”
“Have you seen Father Richards?”
“Yes. He’s unavoidably been detained. A parishioner came by and needed his counseling.”
Father Delaney went into Father Donnelly’s room and shut the door behind him. The other priests continued to pray. When Father Delaney came back out a little later, he spoke to the others.
“He barely laid still for Last Rites. Something is deeply troubling him. We must pray fervently for his soul. He is being tormented beyond anything I’ve ever seen. His soul is in extreme pain. We must continue to pray him out of his torture. “
The old, dying priest writhed around in his bed, and kept mumbling incoherently.
“Oh, no, not J.D.! No, n…n..not J.D.! I can’t believe someone shot you!”
Father Tallum leaned in close to Father Donnelly. He whispered in his ear, calmly, but curiously.
“Who’s J.D., Father Donnelly?”
“My friend, J.D. Tippit,” not realizing he was talking to Father Tallum.
Father Tallum looked around at the other priests. They were all asking each other the same thing Father Tallum wanted to know.
“Who is J.D. Tippit?”
Not everyone could answer that question. Finally, Father Davis spoke up.
“I think he was the police officer who was shot on the same day as John Kennedy, November 22, 1963. The consensus was that after Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, he was wandering around, and when he saw Tippit, Tippit tried to arrest him, and Oswald shot him. I think there’s no official evidence on any of that, but it’s gone down into folklore.”
“Well, what’s all that got to do with Father Donnelly?”
“I don’t know,” Father Tallum said, shaking his head in puzzlement.
Some of the priests, outside the door, decided to go into Father Donnelly’s room, shut the door, lay their hands on him, and pray fervently for his soul, pained, dying, not at peace, so far away from peace.
They knelt by his bedside, some praying loudly, some praying silently, some praying the 23rd Psalm, some the Lord’s Prayer, some the Prayer of the Rosary. Father Donnelly was restless, rolling from one side of the bed to the other, talking to no one, mumbling to people the praying Fathers couldn’t see.
They call me “Miss Exclusive.” My real name is Kailey Mumm.
It had all started with the Titanic and Millvina Dean, the last survivor, who sailed on the Titanic as a two month old infant. I was more than interested in the boat, and the iceberg that it hit. I wanted real stories from it, from as many survivors as I could find. Only Millvina was still alive.
From then on, it seemed like people wanted to tell me their story—only me. I got the exclusive story with Derek Jeter on his last night of baseball. He was pretty emotional, but I was the one who cried. I had gotten the exclusive interview with the now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the night of their engagement, and they invited me to the wedding. I went. That was cool. I had been good friends with Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, and Joan Rivers. Someday, I hoped, I would talk to the Pope. That would be a coup.
Well, back to how I got Millvina from the boat. She was really, really old and wanted to make sure her story was told. How she picked me out to tell it to, I’ll never know. All I did know was that she wanted to talk to only me. I felt like I was dreaming when I entered her room at the nursing home. Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio had just made the news by helping her with her finances, and by giving her lots of money to help her out, namely, pretty much with her nursing home fees. She and I talked, and talked, and talked, some about Titanic, some not. I stayed for six hours, and when I hugged her goodbye, I knew more about the Titanic than James Cameron. I printed her story in a weekly series over the month of April, to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of the ship, and sent her a copy of each column. I cried when she died. I felt like I lost a good friend.
So, imagine my surprise, and shock, and curiosity when I got a phone call from a priest at a monastery, on a cool, overcast, September afternoon. The priest told me a dying priest there wanted to see me. Supposedly, he was spouting off little, random tidbits about the JFK assassination. I had absolutely no idea what to make of it. The priest told me this dying priest wasn’t long for this world, and that I’d better hurry if I wanted whatever story this man had to tell, if I could get him to talk at all in his condition. He gave me the driving directions, and I told him I was on my way.
When I got there, about an hour later, I was met by a priest who quickly ushered me into a room where the dying priest was lying. You could smell it, and I did, as I walked into the room. It was a little foul, very musty, like something was rotting. It smacked you in the face, and it made you want to hold your breath until you could leave. Of course, I couldn’t do that. He was turning, and twisting in bed, mumbling, his eyes half open.
“He is a tortured soul. He wants forgiveness for something, but we are at a loss. He knows you from somewhere and asked that we get you here. He is lucid for a few minutes, then delirious again.”
“And the JFK thing?”
“He mutters facts of JFK’s death, then mutters stuff that makes no sense.”
“Hmmmm.” I sat down in a chair by the bed. I tapped the old priest’s shoulder. “Mr…” I looked back at the other priest.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Father Donnelly, I’m here now.
He opened his eyes slowly and turned to look at me.
“I understand you wanted to see me?”
“Yes, sir, I mean, Father. Why did you want to see me?”
He motioned for me to lean down to his mouth.
“Please ask him to leave us alone.”
I looked back at the other priest.
“Um, he wants it to be just him and me. I’m sorry.”
“Very well.” The priest turned and walked out the door, closing it soundly behind him.
I looked around the room for a moment. There wasn’t much light from the tiny window behind the bed. There was a little table next to the bed with room for the alarm clock and lamp. A tall, thin cabinet stood on the other side of the room. That was probably for clothes, I thought. The chair probably came from that wall, too. What a sparsely furnished room. Well, priests don’t need a lot, I remembered hearing some time in my life.
The old, dying priest tried to sit up. He looked lucid, and I helped him prop up with a couple of pillows. He looked ready to talk, but the words had a rough time getting out his mouth, his throat scratchy. I sat back down, with my little steno pad and pen, and got ready to take notes on whatever he had to say.
“I wish you could have known my brother,” he started. “I wish he had lived long enough so others could have known him. Us two boys, and my father, took care of our mother. She was always sickly, from since childhood, and her having us made her more sickly. My brother stayed home a lot of years to help my papa help her. We came from Cuba. My brother was in the Bay of Pigs in 1961, and he was killed. I vowed John Kennedy would pay for my brother’s death. I kept my promise.”
What was this man trying to tell me? I knew he had a point, but he was dancing around it. I was getting a little frustrated, but I waited.
“I have asked God to forgive me every day since that day in November, 1963.”
“Forgive you for what?”
“For killing John F. Kennedy.”
“What?” I almost fell off the chair.
“I killed the President.”
“I got off the head shot.”
“Wait a minute. How? This is crazy. How? What are you telling me?”
“I killed Kennedy.” He paused only a second. “I was the man on the grassy knoll.”