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John F. Kennedy Rosary Beads

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Perhaps the most personal possession of John F. Kennedy ever offered…his rosary beads and Sterling silver crucifix, gifted to his long-time best friend and assistant

John F. Kennedy’s personal rosary beads and sterling silver crucifix, presented by Kennedy to his best friend and special assistant, David Powers. Rosary consists of a sterling silver cross, 1.5? wide and 2.25? long, engraved on the reverse, “John F. Kennedy.” The black onyx beads measure approximately .25? in diamater. A small openwork sterling silver circle, .75? in diameter, connects the decade beads to the antiphon beads, and bears the descending dove of the Holy Spirit inside of a triangle.

The rosary is accompanied by a 2013 letter of provenance from Powers’s son, David J. Powers, and reads, “My father was David F. Powers, the Special Assistant to President John F. Kennedy and Curator at the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. Many consider my father to have been President Kennedy’s best friend and confidant. They campaigned together from 1946 to 1963, and travelled the world together on presidential visits. During their travels, they frequently attended mass and would always make 3 wishes at each new Church per Roman Catholic tradition. Kennedy would often relate that his wishes pertained to winning key states in the next election. The Rosary Beads and Silver Cross engraved ‘John F. Kennedy’ were gifted to my father by JFK and my father cherished them. My father was in the fateful motorcade in Dallas, right behind President Kennedy’s vehicle. I can imagine that reflecting with these rosary beads gave my father comfort in the years after the President’s death.” The President attended Mass with Powers quite frequently. Accompanying the rosary beads are four photos of President Kennedy and Dave Powers, with Secret Service agents, entering or leaving St. Edwards Catholic Church in Palm Beach, Florida (December 8, 1961) and Washington's Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle (August 15, 1961, November 1, 1961, and May 31, 1962).

Prior to the 1960s, the corpus on the crucifix was much more realistic; as tastes changed, they became more stylized, as this piece is, indicating that it was designed at the start of the ’60s. The same is true of the anchor piece bearing the dove. While rosaries were made with myriad different materials, it was common for Catholics of high status to have them made of finer materials, such as the sterling silver and black onyx (one of the more common choices for men, due to its masculine appearance). Though one would not get his or her own rosary engraved, it was common for upper-class Catholics to do so when giving it as a gift; with Jackie’s known penchant for personalizing meaningful pieces that she gave her husband, and with her undeniable eye for the finest modern styles, it is likely that this was a gift to Kennedy from his wife.

During Kennedy’s time, the rosary was a major part of Catholic practice. It was used in family life, highly encouraged by the Kennedys’ close friend Archibishop Richard Cushing, who recited it over the radio so that families could gather at home and join in prayer; in personal life, with the rosary carried at all times as a reminder to pray; and in community life, as most Catholics would silently pray the rosary during Latin mass, when they could not follow the priests’ words. Trying to balance family life with the pressures of political life, it is understandable that this rosary should show such wear, with the sterling heavily rubbed and the onyx beads slightly chipped. This is by far one of the most remarkable, personal pieces of President Kennedy’s that has ever come to auction, holding incredible significance in its signs of daily use and its representation of the faith that carried him through life.

Provenance: Acquired by current owner from the Dave Powers Collection

A portion of the proceeds of the sale will be donated to the David Powers Foundation, a Non-Profit Foundation helping The Boys and Girls Club and Military Families.