Tuesday, November 19, 2013 - 14:30

Kennedy Legacy at Assumption College

The Kennedy family enjoys a distinguished legacy of engagement with Assumption College that dates back more than half a century. As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's Nov. 22, 1963, assassination, Assumption reflects on its friendship with him and his family.


Sixty years ago, in June 1953, a violent tornado ripped through Worcester, destroying the original campus of Assumption College, which was then located where Quinsigamond Community College now stands. Following the disaster, Assumption College moved to its current Salisbury Street address. This would not have been possible without the contributions of the local community and that of the Kennedy family. Following then-U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy's tour of the crippled campus, the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation donated $150,000 -- the largest the college had received to date -- to Assumption for the rebuilding effort. This donation was made on July 20, 1953, a little more than a month after the disaster, at Worcester's Sheraton Hotel. Senator Kennedy's then-fiancée, Jacqueline Bouvier; and his sister, Jean Kennedy, were in attendance to make the contribution in honor of the Foundation.

In appreciation for the Kennedy family's generous gift, Assumption named one of the five original buildings constructed on the new Salisbury Street site in memory of the eldest Kennedy brother, who died a hero during World War II. The Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Hall is a visible testament to the courage and sacrifice of the brother to the late President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General and U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; to the compassion and commitment of the family, and to the enduring legacy of the Kennedy family at Assumption College.

The 1954-1955 academic year came to a close with a commencement ceremony held in the gym of the Prep School. Senator John Kennedy was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws and delivered the Commencement address.

"Assumption has the function common to all universities, the continuing search for the truth, both for its own sake and because only if we possess it can we really be free," he said in his address. "Never has the task of finding the truth been more difficult. In a struggle between modern states 'truth' has become a weapon in the battle of power -- it is bent, twisted and subverted to fit the pattern of national policy ... Thus, the responsibility of a free university to pursue its own objective studies is even more important today than ever before."

Kennedy commented on the importance of Assumption College's durable French tradition in carrying out these goals, common to all, but specifically to those at the College with an understanding of the French tradition's "extraordinary vitality."

Campus development continued as the College grew into its new campus. On Oct. 2, 1958, Kennedy visited campus to dedicate the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial Science Center to his older brother and spoke from its steps. He and now-wife Jacqueline were then led on a tour of the building after he unveiled a large portrait of his brother in the building's entrance. Fifty-five years later, the painting is displayed in the same spot.


The 1960s ushered in the leadership of the nation's new president, John F. Kennedy. In 1961, the year of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the building of the Berlin Wall, President Kennedy would mention Assumption while speaking to the City Council of Paris, France.

"More people speak French in my own section of New England than any other language except English," he said. "These descendants of Frenchmen, who have been separated from this country [France] for more than three centuries, maintain in their lives the faith, the tradition, the culture, the understanding which that language and that background gave them, and they send their sons to Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, to learn French. That is why I said at the American Embassy this morning that France is more than the sum of its parts. This long influence, which stretches around the globe, which is part of your tradition, is a source of strength to us today."

Also that year, Edward M. Kennedy would make his first appearance at the new campus as assistant district attorney for Suffolk County. He gave a talk in the dining hall about recent changes in Latin America, while campaigning for the U.S. Senate. Following this luncheon, he was led on his first tour of the Salisbury Street campus, including the building dedicated to his eldest brother. Kennedy would win the campaign and served until his August 2009 passing.

In 1962, family matriarch Rose Kennedy visited campus to give a talk entitled "Impressions de France." Following the presentation she accompanied the Assumptionists to their common room in Alumni Hall. There, they watched her daughter-in-law Jacqueline guide the nation through the first televised tour of the White House.

On Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. In mourning for Assumption College's frequent guest, a memorial service was held on campus. Seven months later, Sen. Edward Kennedy delivered the Commencement Address for the Class of 1964. He thanked Assumption College for its support following his brother's death by saying, "I cannot come here today -- to a college which has had such a close association with my family, to a college which has been so kind to all of us -- without thanking you, from the bottom of my heart, for the prayers you have offered in our behalf in the months since last November."

  • See more images here.
  • Watch the Nov. 22, 2013, NECN news clip, below:


Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College
ke.dunbar@assumption.edu @AssumptionNews