Secular Icon or Catholic Hero?: Religion and the Presidency of John F. Kennedy

  • Thomas J. Carty
Part of the The Evolving American Presidency Series book series (EAP)


My grandfather James B. Murphy sponsored John F. Kennedy’s admission into the second and third degrees of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. As a Catholic who attended daily mass, Mr. Murphy seemed proud that Kennedy’s victory against anti-Catholic prejudice proved that his grandson might achieve the nation’s highest office. He kept a picture of himself with Kennedy in his office. Steven J. Danenberg, the headmaster of the Williams School, a private (independent) day school that I attended in the 1980s, also held Kennedy in high esteem, but for a completely different reason. As an agnostic and a humanist, Mr. Danenberg had two heroes, Captain James T. Kirk (of the television program Star Trek) and John Kennedy, who symbolized for him a secular faith in science and progress. Having spent two years in Venezuela as a Peace Corps volunteer, he viewed Kennedy’s call to public service as an inspiration for educators ambitious to inspire critical thought and intellectual curiosity in young people.


Education Bill Catholic School Embryonic Stem Cell Research Electoral College Electoral Vote 
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© Mark J. Rozell and Gleaves Whitney 2007

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  • Thomas J. Carty

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