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Notre Dame College-created Memorial to JFK Honored 50 Years Later
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Notre Dame College-created Memorial to JFK Honored 50 Years Later as Calligraphic Inspiration

As the 50th anniversary of former President John F. Kennedy‘s assassination approaches on Nov. 22, a former Notre Dame College student has published an article in a national art journal honoring a memorial scroll─ created at the College five decades ago─that commemorates the fallen president.

Barbara (Spacek) DeMaria, a Notre Dame student in the 1960s, has published an article in the fall 2013 issue of “Alphabet,” the Journal of the Friends of Calligraphy, paying homage to the Notre Dame-created plaque of Bible passages used in Kennedy’s eulogy. The scroll was lettered in green and gold by calligrapher Sr. Joanne Zeitz, SND, formerly Sr. St. Kenneth, at the College art studio 50 years ago and presented to the fallen president’s family by DeMaria and other Notre Dame students on April 2, 1964, in Washington, D.C.

“It was so wonderful for me to be connected again to Notre Dame College. My years there were very special,” DeMaria said. “My time at Notre Dame laid the ground work for me to continue learning and absorbing knowledge over the years.”

The College artwork from 1964, a 21-by-26-inch framed plaque, remains part of the “Gifts from the Public” collection at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

In her newly published article, “Calligraphic Inspirations,” DeMaria describes her experience when she and five other Notre Dame students attended Kennedy’s funeral in 1963, as well as presented what she describes as the “beautifully executed, illuminated” scroll in the Attorney General’s office the following year.

“The solemnity of the procession entering and exiting the cathedral still resonates with me,” DeMaria writes in the journal article.

In addition to memories of Kennedy’s funeral, DeMaria said recollections of the art-inspired plaque she presented to the family also stayed with her. The calligraphy cultivated in her a love of lettering, which she took up as a hobby almost 40 years later.

DeMaria, a California resident, writes in the publication not only about the personal experience of her visit to the nation’s capitol as a student but also her journey back to Northeast Ohio a year ago to meet with the artist, Sr. Joanne.

“I am thankful that this search led me all the way back to the calligrapher who first influenced me and that through this process I have been able to convey to her how much that influence finally guided me toward the often challenging but always exciting and satisfying study of lettering,” DeMaria writes.

In November 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, DeMaria was a sophomore at Notre Dame. She and two other classmates traveled to Washington and joined thousands of others to witness the funeral procession. The Notre Dame students were directly across the street from St. Mathews Cathedral where the funeral took place.

Between that winter and spring of the next year, at the College’s Marian Art Studio, Sr. Joanne, who taught at Notre Dame, created the memorial scroll for Jacqueline Kennedy.

 In April 1964, a group of College students, including DeMaria, went back to Washington to present the plaque. They were received at the Attorney General’s office by Nicholas Katzenbach, deputy attorney general. Later that year, Nancy Tuckerman, secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy at that time, sent to the College an acknowledgement of the reception of the scroll by the First Lady.

Nearly 50 years later, in 2012, while working on her article for the art journal, DeMaria contacted Patricia Harding, Notre Dame archivist, to satisfy her curiosity about the scroll, its current whereabouts and its artist. Harding not only helped locate the scroll and obtained an electronic image of it from the Kennedy Library but also connected DeMaria with Sr. Joanne, who currently resides at the Sisters of Notre Dame Provincial Center in Chardon, Ohio.

Sr. Joanne and DeMaria never actually knew each other at Notre Dame, though they were instrumental in the creation and delivery, respectively, of the memorial scroll five decades ago.

“It was a special treat for me to meet with Sr. Joanne after all these years and get to know her,” DeMaria said.

Sr. Joanne left the College in 1986 to minister for several years at Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg, Va., and then at the Provincial Health Care Center in Chardon. She has since retired and returned to calligraphy, the art she and DeMaria now share─just as they share the rediscovery of a piece of Notre Dame and national history.

“Just to see that color version of the scroll warms my heart after 50 years,” Sr. Joanne said.