Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
This sounds totally make-believe, but every single word of it is true: On July 27, 1963, less than four months before he assassinated President John F. Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald was invited to deliver a lecture to a group of Jesuits in Mobile, Alabama, at their House of Studies.
This, of course, didn’t just happen in a vacuum. Oswald’s cousin, Eugene Murret, was in formation to become a Jesuit. Since Eugene’s parents, Lillian and “Dutz” Murret, were among the only remaining family Oswald had — and they had shared with Br. Eugene his cousin’s trouble finding a job since his return from the Soviet Union, as well as the fact that he had a young wife and two small children — Eugene apparently took pity on his younger cousin. In a letter dated July 4, 1963, and forever marked as Warren Commission Exhibit No. 2648, Eugene wrote to his uneducated and poverty-ridden relative, Lee Harvey, saying:
Here at the [Jesuit] House of Studies during the summer months we have a series of lectures on various subjects given by different persons from the neighboring areas. These subjects usually deal with art, literature, economics, religion, politics, etc.
Oswald, who had never finished high school and was dishonorably discharged from the Marine Corps, knew next to nothing — indeed, nothing at all — of art, literature, economics, or religion.
However, since he had defected to and lived (briefly) in the Soviet Union from 1959-1961, Oswald “knew” a bit about life under a Communist regime. His cousi, Eugene continued in his missive, that:
We were hoping that you might come over to talk to us about contemporary Russia and the practice of Communism there.
Concerned perhaps that this might amount to a public de-lousing, Eugene double-clutches and becomes a bit more gregarious and expansive:
Of course we want you to choose whatever topic you like concerning your travels in Russia and to present the talk and its material in a narration of your own observations. In other words, don’t feel that it ought to be very formal and theoretical. Also, when I say that the talks usually last for an hour, I don’t mean that it has to be that long. This is rather by way of a time-limit.
Oswald, who had appeared on radio in New Orleans espousing his “Marxist-Leninist” views, must have been thrilled at the opportunity to expatiate on his experience in Soviet Russia — especially to a group known for its erudition. While we don’t have a written copy of Oswald’s response to his cousin’s invitation — Oswald was almost functionally illiterate and dyslexic to the point that his extant writings are nearly incomprehensible — on Saturday, July 27, Lee and his wife Marina, rode with his uncle Dutz and aunt Lillian from New Orleans to Mobile to give the talk.
A number of Jesuits who were present gave testimony about Oswald’s 30-minute talk. Gerald Posner, author of the acclaimed best-selling Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and The Assasination of JFK, sums up the evening in these words:
Oswald gave a half-hour talk that evening. Those present later described him as ‘very tense and high-strung’. He confirmed that he was a Marxist, although he admitted that he was disillusioned with the USSR. In fact, he said he was against most forms of organized government. [Oswald said:] ‘Capitalism doesn’t work, communism doesn’t work. In the middle is socialism, and that doesn’t work, either.’
Spoken like a true, and truly uneducated, misanthrope.
That last recollection is of Jesuit Father Robert J. Fitzpatrick, who was at the event (and later interviewed by the Warren Commission).
While the idea of having his cousin speak on Communism may have been the brainchild of the young, in-formation, Jesuit-to-be Eugene Murret, the all-clear came from his superior.
Other Jesuits had more vivid memories of the Oswald talk. Fr. Malcom Mullen thought that Oswald was “a college graduate.” (In reality Lee had barely finished the 8th grade and had been shuttled between a half-dozen schools from New Orleans to Dallas, to New York to Fort Worth before trying to lie his way into the Marines at age 17.) Significantly, Fr. Mullen didn’t bother to stick around for the “question-and-answer” session that followed Oswald’s talk.
Eugene Murret, who was never very close to his cousin Lee Harvey — they were seven years apart in age — might have left the talk alone once it was over. (It was obviously not a success and, much to Oswald’s chagrin he received no payment.) However, in a letter dated Aug. 22, 1963, Br. Eugene effusively noted to his 24-year-old, unemployed, gun-toting, wife-beating, mentally unstable cousin:
I was speaking with one of our professors who heard the talk you gave to us. He thought that you made a number of good points. One of these was your criticism of speculation in the capitalist system. He equated stock speculation with gambling. It seems to be another form of it. Another point was your criticism of exploitation which occurs in capitalism.
However here the fulsome praise of Oswald’s peroration stops and his cousin delicately mentioned that, “On the other hand, the professor to whom I am referring thought that you hadn’t made sufficient application.” The final paragraph of the final letter from the Jesuit-to-be to the assassin-to-be notes that:
The Popes, beginning with Leo XIII in 1891 and continuing up to the present day [John XXIII] have given considerable thought and energy in trying to think through to a solution of economic and social and political abuses. You might get some ideas from the enclosed article as to how the Popes have been trying to work out the problem as well as some stimulation to your own thinking on the matter.
That’s about it for now. Give my regards to Marina. Sincerely, Gene.
Oswald, who could barely read, and had absolutely no interest in religion — though he once bragged to a fellow Marine that “the best religion is Communism” — certainly left the enclosed articles unread.
Eugene Murret left the Jesuits five years later. Attempts to contact him and his family for contact on this piece went unreturned — but one can hardly blame them.