ENCORE: Missouri priest anointed President Kennedy on fateful day in Dallas

Fr. Huber prayed with the first lady the day the president died


A version of the following article was originally published in the Nov. 21, 2008, edition of The Catholic Missourian. Fr. Huber’s nephew, Vincentian Father Oscar Lukefahr, who led numerous parish missions in this diocese and whose columns were published for many years in The Catholic Missourian, died in 2015.

Vincentian Father Oscar Huber was a farmer before entering the seminary.

His 44 years as a priest included overseeing the successful merger of two Catholic parishes in his hometown; leading several large congregations; and helping to inspire his namesake nephew to follow him into the priestly Congregation of the Missions.

He was a hard-working, dedicated pastor who made many friends while leading people to Christ in word and sacrament.

For all of that, Fr. Huber, who died in 1975, is still remembered.

And for one other thing.

Sixty years ago this week, the Perryville native administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick and the last rites to President John F. Kennedy, who lay dying in Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. The priest also prayed with and comforted the president’s wife, Jacqueline Kennedy.

“He was not the kind of person who enjoyed being in the limelight,” said Vincentian Father Oscar Lukefahr, Fr. Huber’s nephew, whose monthly column is published in The Catholic Missourian. “If people asked questions about it, he answered cautiously. He didn’t go around saying, ‘I was the one who anointed the president.’ He was simply a priest who did his job, and that was that.”

According to an article in the January 2007 issue of Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Fr. Huber, who was pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Dallas from 1959-68, walked several blocks on Nov. 22, 1963, to see President Kennedy’s motorcade pass by.

Believing that the nation’s first Catholic president, who was traveling in an open-topped limousine, had spotted his Roman collar and waved to him, Fr. Huber returned to his rectory to tell his friends what had happened.

“It was a thrilling moment for me,” he was quoted as saying.

A while later, Vincentian Father James N. Thompson, associate pastor, told Fr. Huber that the president had been shot. Both immediately left for the hospital, which was located within the parish’s boundaries.

According to an article in the Dec. 1, 1963, issue of The Catholic Missourian, Fr. Huber administered the last rites to the President conditionally, because there was no way to tell whether he was still alive.

The prayers of absolution and anointing, prayed in Latin by the priest, stated: “I absolve you from all censures and sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. ... If you are living, may the Lord by this Holy Anointing forgive whatever you have sinned. Amen.”

People standing nearby, including Mrs. Kennedy, joined the priest in praying the Lord’s Prayer and the “Hail Mary.”

“She graciously thanked me and asked me to pray for the president. She appeared shocked,” Fr. Huber was quoted as saying in the 1963 article.

Later, he told Fr. Lukefahr, who was in the seminary at that time, how impressed he was with Mrs. Kennedy’s strength and courage.

“Whenever it came up in conversation — and I respected his desire for privacy by never interrogating him about it — he mostly talked about how he prayed with Jackie, and what a wonderful person she was — very dignified and strong,” Fr. Lukefahr stated.

That same dignity and strength set the tone for the nation’s three days of official mourning, as millions of shocked Americans remained affixed to their televisions.

Delayed vocation

Fr. Huber — a native of Perryville in the southern part of the St. Louis archdiocese — was the younger of two sons in his family. Their parents were in poor health, so Fr. Huber stayed at home to help with the family farm when his brother went away to dental school.

At age 28, Fr. Huber entered the Vincentian minor seminary in Perryville, completing the high school curriculum in two years.

“He was a hard worker,” Fr. Lukefahr noted. “It must have been interesting to have someone in his late 20s in high school!”

He went to the Vincentian novitiate and college seminary, completing the four-year program in about three, followed by theology studies.

After his ordination to the Holy Priesthood on June 4, 1931, Fr. Lukefahr became a member of the seminary faculty while serving as treasurer for Perryville’s Vincentian community and pastor of the parish in nearby Brewer.

He eventually became pastor of what then were known as Church of the Assumption and St. Boniface Parishes in Perryville. He oversaw the combination of both parishes and their Catholic schools, which had been founded to serve English- and German-speaking Catholics, into a single parish, named for St. Vincent.

“He was the kind of pastor who could do those kinds of things and do them well,” said Fr. Lukefahr. “He was a good administrator, and he cared a lot about people. I never heard anyone complain about him.”

Parishioners loved Fr. Huber because he loved them and showed it by working very, very hard, Fr. Lukefahr said. Old-timers in Perry County still talk about Fr. Huber’s hunting expeditions and card-playing prowess.

He stayed in close touch with his large family and always had gifts for his many nieces and nephews. Wherever he was stationed, his idea of vacation involved spending time with family members.

“I doubt if he ever left a letter unanswered,” said Fr. Lukefahr. “He and I carried on correspondence all through my seminary days and up to the time of his death.”

Fr. Huber later became pastor of St. Vincent Parish in Kansas City, then served in San Antonio, Texas.

He was about 70 years old and was pastor of a very large parish in Dallas when he received the call to anoint President Kennedy.

He could not spend a lot of time at the hospital because the doctors and nurses were still trying to revive the president.

As he and Fr. Thompson left, a Secret Service agent told them not to say anything to the reporters gathered outside. But shortly thereafter, news agencies throughout the world were reporting that Fr. Huber had announced that the president was dead.

“He was quoted as saying something he did not say,” Fr. Lukefahr said. “That was extremely distressing to him.”

Fr. Huber maintained to his death that he had not gone back on his word.

“I obeyed the request of the Secret Service agent,” he wrote in a newspaper article in 1968.

“He was used to maintaining the seal of Confession, so he knew the importance of keeping his word,” said Fr. Lukefahr. “For someone to say he didn’t keep his word — I know that really upset him.”

Blessing cup

After completing his pastorate in Dallas, Fr. Huber became associate pastor of St. Catherine Laboure Parish near St. Louis. He then spent his last two years at the Vincentian retirement home in Perryville.

He died in 1975, leaving his chalice to Fr. Lukefahr. The younger priest, who gives numerous parish missions and retreats throughout the country each year, uses the chalice for Mass when he is traveling.

That vessel — used by Fr. Huber the day he anointed the president and on the roughly 16,000 other days he was a priest — reminds Fr. Lukefahr of a generous priest who loved people and found abundant satisfaction in sharing God’s grace with them, regardless of their station in life.

“He was very, very dedicated to the Priesthood,” Fr. Lukefahr noted. “I think that’s how he would want to be remembered.”

The article in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, “Father Oscar Huber, the Kennedy Assassination, and the News Leak Controversy: A Research Note,” was written by Dr. Patrick Huber, an associate professor of history at Missouri University of Science and Technology who is a distant relative to Fr. Huber.