The year was 1963, and Sister Catherine Berissimo Monahan (pictured above), of our Albany Province, was turning 100 years old on November 24. In anticipation of the momentous event, someone must have requested a birthday card from the White House. This card was found in S. Catherine Berissimo Monahan’s file at the Carondelet Consolidated Archives in St. Louis.
About 70 years ago, the White House began sending out birthday cards, per request by someone who knew the person. Today the White House sends out cards with the current president’s signature for anyone who is 80 years or older, as well as for well wishes for other momentous milestones in life.
Notably, this card from the White House, bearing the signature of John F. Kennedy, was postmarked on November 21, 1963. On November 22, 1963, just after noon in downtown Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was assassinated.
One day later on November 23, 1963, Sister Catherine received her White House birthday card, just in time for her birthday, but it was a grim reminder of the prior day’s events. Sister Catherine is said to have kissed the card.
Also, of historical interest and as mentioned in this newspaper article about the timely card from The Times-Union in Albany, Sister Catherine was born in 1863, so she was alive for all four presidential assassinations. While having no memory of Lincoln in 1865, she certainly would have remembered Garfield in 1881 and McKinley in 1901. The birthday card received from the White House would then be a stark reminder of the fourth assassination of a U.S. president in her lifetime.
Sister Catherine lived to be 102 years old.