JFK in Dubuque: Priest remembers Kennedy's Loras College visit - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

JFK in Dubuque: Priest remembers Kennedy's Loras College visit

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John F. Kennedy paid Dubuque a visit in 1956, when he gave the Loras College commencement speech.

Msgr. Francis Friedl, now a retired priest, got to spend the whole day with Kennedy as his guide.

"You couldn't meet him and not love him. He was just a loveable person," Friedl said, recalling his time spent with the young politician. "He was a charming man, very charming man. Always smiling."

Kennedy and Friedl were born just six months apart. Kennedy was 40 and Friedl, 39, when the two met on Sun., June 3, 1956.

In his 95 years, Friedl has met all kinds of notable people, including actors Charlie Sheen and Loretta Young and NBA basketball player "Easy Ed" Macauley, with whom Friedl wrote a book.

One of Friedl's very favorite celebrity meetings, however, was with Kennedy.

"He knew that Dubuque was the center of Catholicism and had been for many years. He spoke about that," Friedl said, adding with a chuckle, "When I say he was a good Catholic, I know that he had a lot of things that he did wrong, but, then, he was such a likeable man, you excused all the things he did wrong."

Back then, Kennedy was a senator and Friedl was vice president of Loras College.

Both men went on to become president: one, of a college and the other, of a nation.

Then, however, came Nov. 22, 1963.

"Nobody will be in doubt of where they were," Friedl said. "I was supposed to say mass at 8 o'clock down at St. Mary's...I got there just to the back door of the place, and I heard the announcement that he had been killed. Never forget that."

In the years following that day, Friedl went on to oversee Loras College's transition to a co-ed school and write 13 books, among other accomplishments.

Still, he'll never forget the following moment, which he shared that day with Kennedy, who had a bad back from a service-related injury in World War II.

"He took out his comb when he was combing his hair, and he dropped it on the sidewalk, and he said, 'Monsignor, would you mind picking up that comb for me?'" Friedl recalled. "I thought, 'Well, wait a minute,' and then I realized: 'He has a bad back, he can't even bend over.'"

It was a sign of Kennedy's sacrifice for his nation, thought that wasn't the last sacrifice the man would give.

Friedl said Kennedy attended mass at St. Patrick's Church in Dubuque before giving the speech at Loras.

Kennedy left a particularly profound mark on Dubuque, as he was a Democrat and the nation's first Catholic president. At the time of Kennedy's assassination, a majority of Dubuquers were, themselves, Catholic and Democrats.

Kennedy left his physical mark on Dubuque, too. There's John F. Kennedy Elementary School, JFK Road and the Kennedy Mall.

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