A Presidential Latin Mass Wedding
On August 6, 1966, for the first time in the nation’s history, the daughter of a sitting U.S. President married in a Catholic church.
Convert Luci Baines Johnson married cradle Catholic Patrick Nugent at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Because this wedding is the American equivalent of a royal wedding, we have access to a great level of detail about the ceremonies. This is interesting not only for students of American history and Catholicism, but especially for liturgical history.
While modern liturgical reforms started well before the 1960’s, the mid-1960’s in America was a time of particularly intense experimentation. To have detailed descriptions of Catholic ceremonies at such a time is invaluable.
Sadly, 4 children and 13 years later, Luci and Patrick’s marriage was annulled.
Before the big day
In addition to being picketed day-of by anti-Vietnam protestors (The Catholic Transcript, 29 July 1966), Luci and Patrick had faced months of public debate regarding her conversion.
Luci had wanted to convert well before adulthood. (National Catholic Reporter, 7 July 1965). The point of contention, however, was that she requested and was granted a conditional Baptism - the implications of which did not thrill Episcopalian leaders. Archbishop James Pike of the Episcopal Church, no stranger to controversy himself, called the baptism a “sacrilege”:
According to Episcopalian Bishop Pike, the re-baptism of Luci Johnson when she became a Roman Catholic was a sacrilege. Despite the phrasing of his nationally reported sermon, which no doubt offended many Roman Catholics, we ought to thank him for calling attention to an ecumenical problem of real importance. Perhaps we have here just the prodding necessary finally to put an end to our custom of indiscriminately re-baptizing converts from the Protestant Churches…The custom of re-baptizing such candidates is well entrenched. It’s just plain “always been done.” That custom in itself is the real culprit in the Johnson affair, and in a hundred thousand or so less publicized others every year in this country. Outside of lassitude, the custom has little enough to commend it. It’s disrespectful to baptism itself; it s against the long-standing and quite explicit law of the Church; and it stands in open opposition to the growing ecumenical spirit of our own day. Why then does it so extensively endure? (National Catholic Reporter, 14 July 1965)
While the weekend received widespread media attention, most, if not all, of the wedding and Mass was not filmed. The couple had insisted on a private ceremony, to the degree that they were able.
NBC has already begun production of a one-hour color film on the wedding, of Luci Baines Johnson to Patrick J. Nugent, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D. C., August 6. This picture will play the same evening, when other TV shots of the whole ceremony (or such parts as are permissible) will be added. The NBC film will include an explanation of the nuptial Mass. (The Voice, 3 June 1966)
Millions of Americans, young and old alike, sat transfixed In front of their home screens as the three major networks in a combined pool coverage telecast all the wedding day activities—except for the Nuptial Mass at the Shrine. (The Catholic Standard and Times, 12 August 1966)
Some film footage from the day does exist, and may contain short clips of the ceremonies:
“Resumé of ceremonies at wedding of Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, in Washington, D.C.,” Michigan State University
“Luci Johnson and Pat Nugent wedding-color. Hearst color cans, HCCc48 and HCCc48A, 230846,” UCLA Library
Highlights of the ceremonies
It is difficult to label any particular detail as unusual, as “royal” weddings like this are by their nature exceptional. However, approaching this from the perspective of liturgical history, there are numerous interesting details we can distill from the clippings (all provided below).
As nearly as I can tell, based on the readings mentioned, the couple used the nuptial votive Mass, the Missa pro sponso et sponsa.
Before the Second Vatican Council, the two ceremonies - the Rite of Marriage and the wedding Mass - were distinct. The marriage was followed by the Mass. One of the changes brought about by the Council was that the marriage was moved to the middle of Mass, directly after the homily. The Johnson-Nugent wedding was one of the first high-profile weddings to show this new order of events.
The Mass was concelebrated by 3 priests, with about 10 more in the sanctuary. The concelebrants were Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington, Father Kuzinskas, and Father William J. Kaifer, S.J.
The pictures in LIFE Magazine (below) show the priests facing the people.
Father Kuzinskas - not the main celebrant of the Mass - read the traditional wedding exhortation and witnessed the marriage.
The prayers at the foot of the altar were chanted by the choir. (It is possible that this was a journalistic error, as I have never heard of this practice and know of no chant tone for this part of the Mass. I wonder if they confused it for the Introit.)
Music director Robert F. Twynham composed an original setting for the Mass parts. (Catholic News Service, 7 July 1966)
Although the couple likely used the traditional wedding Mass, the readings were in the vernacular. The Epistle was read by Representative Hale Boggs, the then-House Majority Whip.
Deserving of its own bullet point is this snippet: “Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana, who read the epistle of the Mass, gave a brief and inspiring explanation before the reading.” (Catholic News Service, 9 August 1966). This is tantalizing, and is reminiscent of experimentations with the Dialogue Mass and liturgical commentators.
The recessional hymn was from the Episcopal hymnal: “At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams.
Luci participated in the traditional custom of leaving her bouquet at a statue of Mary - but with a twist. The altar with Mary also had a picture of St. Agatha, patron saint of nursing. (Luci had studied nursing at Georgetown University.)
The wedding program
Of particular interest to me - and the reason I found this story in the first place - is that the couple had a wedding booklet for the ceremonies, called “The Mass on the Day of Marriage.”
This is the same name as one of the most popular wedding booklets at the time, published by the Leaflet Missal.
Sed contra, the booklet is called a “leaflet missal” (lowercase), and was “arranged by Father Walter J. Schmitz, S.S.” (Catholic News Service). The cover of the booklet also looks very different from wedding Leaflet Missals:
eBay listing, “1966 Press Photo President’s Daughter Luci Johnson’s Wedding Mass Booklet.” Sold by historicimages04. Listing ended April 17, 2021. https://www.ebay.com/itm/373463204439
1941 edition of “The Mass on the Day of Marriage,” published by the Leaflet Missal.
I have been unable to track down a copy of the booklet to confirm if Luci and Patrick’s version was totally custom, or modified from the Leaflet Missal. My best guess is that it was a highly modified Leaflet Missal.
The Catholic Standard and Times, 12 August 1966
Understood Mass Better Than Ever, Sen. Dirksen Says
A non Catholic guest who followed the Nugent-Johnson Nuptial Mass in the leaflet missal for guests. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, told the TV audience later that it was the most complete participation In the Catholic .Mass he had ever experienced, and he appreciated the opportunity.
The senator made his remarks as he was Interviewed on the steps of the shrine of the Immaculate Conception after the ceremony. His comment about appreciating the Mass led the Interviewer to ask whether the senator had attended wedding Masses previously. He responded that he had been to many of them, but this was the first at which he felt he understood the Mass from beginning lo end.
Catholic News Service, 9 August 1966
RECAPITULATION OF A HISTORIC WEDDING 8/9/66 - Tu. By Sheila Nelson (N.C.W.C. News Service) WASHINGTON
“Dear Pat and Luci: You are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious…”
Thus began the historic marriage coromony of Luci Baines Johnson and Patrick John Nugent in the magnificent setting of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here.
Things had been buzzing at the Shrine for days in preparation for this moment and though Saturday’s blazing sun made the day uncomfortable for many, the humidity was low and the sun was better than the rain of the day before.
The Shrine’s Indiana limestone gleamed white. High on the facade American eagles’ spread wings proclaiming that this Shrine had been built by the people of American seemed particularly appropriate on this day when the daughter of the President of the United States would enter this church to be married.
She would be the first daughter of a President to marry in a Catholic Church, the seventh to marry during her father’s term of office and the first White House bride in 52 years.
Luci Baines Johnson’s marriage to Patrick John Nugent (Aug. 6) would be the first at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In effect, at the Shrine the day didn’t really begin, it continued from Friday as White House florists worked through the night with arrangements for the Shrine interior. Foremost in the decorations were topiary trees, of locust and fiscus a total of 34, of which 18 were in the main body of the Church and 16 in the chancel and sanctuary areas. Tied in the greens of the trees were white roses, lilies-of-the-valley, and babies’ breath. The largest of the trees had white carnations rather than roses. Placed at strategic positions the tree effectively unified the areas of the church used for the congregation.
Unused pews were closed with white bows. Four large bouquets in floor vases adorned the chancel and sanctuary area. Bouquets decorated every fourth pew and first and last pews of areas toward the side aisles, which were not used.
Completing the floral arrangements, were six baskets of pink and white flowers, set on the floor in a line on both sides of the shrine vestibule.
Guests began to arrive before 10:30 a.m. and the Shrine’s carillon began pealing at eleven. Carilloneur Robert Grogan, isolated in the bell tower, had to be cued via walkie talkie as they did the choirs and the organist.
Mrs. Elisabeth Carpenter, press secretary to Mrs. Johnson, was a roving command post, collecting and imparting information and keeping tab on the progress of the day via walkie talkie. She had gotten up too early, but greeted guests and press alike with exhuberant “Happy Wedding Days.” Earlier in the week it had been simply, “Happy Wedding.”
A modest crowd gathered in front of the religious houses of study that had vantage points. Behind the crowd the pickets who had announced their intention to be present, walked in an endless circle, making little impression on those in a “Happy Wedding Day” mood. Wedding decor was even extended to the press, whose areas were marked off with a somewhat silkier or nylonier rope than the usual manila.
In the Shrine cafeteria, food and cold drinks were available to the thankful workers.
Arriving guests for the most part couldn’t be identified because they were just friends as the family had promised. were two Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sister M. Louise Cecile of Blessed Sacrament School, and Sister M. Armella of St. Catherine’s School, Columbus, Ohio. Sister Louise Cecile is an aunt of Paul Betz, one of Luci’s former escorts, and Sister M. Armella is originally from Austin, Texas. Both Sisters attended Luci’s Baptism last July.
Ihe groom arrived early, smiling and confident with his father at his side. His father would be the proxy best man since the best man, Patrick Nugent’s brother Gerard, Jr., was somewhere in Vietnam.
The bridal party arrived and proceeded into the Shrine where, people on the outside would know, when the bells stopped pealing, the processional had begun.
The processional, to a “Paraphrase on a Trumpet Tune by Henry Purcell,” by Robert F. Twynham, organist, took exactly 11 minutes to the point when Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington, Fathers John A. Zuzinskas, and Father William J. Kaifer, S.J., began the Mass at 12:18 p.m.
The 150 voice men and boys choir from the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Baltimore, filled this inner Shrine with the «welling Mass music. Not a note of music could be hoard on the outside.
Luci and her Father were preceded down the aisle by eleven groomsmen, 10 bridesmaids, matron and maid of honor and a flower girl and ring bearer. The two younger members of the party were headed to the sacristy and taken out of the Church after they had done their stint.
As President Johnson gave his daughter’s arm to Patrick Nugent at the altar rail, Luci gave her father an affectionate hug. Whether the President kissed Luci has not been confirmed, but he did so during the rehearsal on Friday.
One guest noticed the unusual quiet and reverence in the Church previous to the wedding—as opposed to the usual talking that goes on among waiting guests.
The concelebrated Nuptial Mass was a Mass facing the people and evoked the comment from Senator Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois that though he had attended many wedding Masses, this was the first at which he felt he understood the Mass from beginning to end.
Guests at the wedding followed the Mass in a velour covered missal in white and gold bound with a white cord and tassel. The cover bore a likeness of the Shrine and the inscription, “The Mass On The Day Of Marriage, August 6, 1966.” The booklet was arranged by Father Walter J. Schmitz, S.S., Master of Divine Liturgy for the archdiocese of Washington. It was similar to the usual leaflet missals for weddings but left out the directions and also the prayers at the foot of the altar, which the choir sang. At the marriage ceremony section, Patrick and Luci were substituted for “Bride” and “Groom.”
Bridesmaids and Groomsmen, knelt on either side of the chancel area, in four lines of bouquet decorated prie-dieus. Groomsmen were on the outer side with bridesmaids in the inside. In the chancel area were Archbishop John P. Cody of Chicago, Patrick’s archdiocese; Msgr. John K. Cartwright, rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the parish in which the White House is located, and Msgr. Thomas J. Grady, director of the Shrine.
In addition, 10 priests were present in the sanctuary, Father John Bailey, pastor of St. Anthony’s church, parish in which the Shrine is located, under whose legal jurisdiction the marriage fell; Father James F. Montgomery, assistant archdiocesan director of Catholic Charities, who baptised Luci. In addition, there were Father Joseph P. Reyunas, S.J., president of Marquette University; Father Walter Halloran, S.J., of Campion High School in Prairie Du Chien, Wis.; and Marquette University, both schools attended by Patrick; and other Jesuits from Campion and Marquette, Father Howard Kalb, S.J., Father Wilber Dorn, S.J., Father James Carey, S.J., and Father Michael Sheridan, S.J. Also in the sanctuary was Father Walter Mooney, O.M.I., a member of the Shrine Staff.
Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana, who read the epistle of the Mass, gave a brief and inspiring explanation before the reading.
Following the reading of the Gospel by Father Kaifer, Father John A. Kuzinskas of Chicago, long-time friend of the groom, talked quietly to the couple before beginning the marriage exhortation, substituting a more personal “Dear Pat and Luci,” for the familiar “Dear Friends in Christ.”
The couple, who had been visibly moved, even to tears, during the entire Mass, turned to each other as Father Kuzinskas reached the words “That future, with its hopes and disappointments…” and again when he said “And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or worse…until death.”
Reading in a strong voice, Father Kuzinskas, reached “It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other…” and Luci placed in Patrick’s hand part of the rosary she was holding, which they held together for a few moments. This was the rosary given to her sister Lynda by Pope John in Sept. 1962, when the vice-president, Mrs. Johnson and Lynda visited the Vatican.
Concluding the exhortation, Father Kuzinskas spoke quietly to the bride and groom for a few seconds and managed to relax their tense emotion to smiles.
“God love them," a bystander commented, “they needed that.”
Patrick’s “I do” was inaudible. Luci said “I do,” at 12:40 and at 12:42 p.m. Father Kuzinskas confirmed the marriage bond with “I join you together in holy wedlock,” concluding the seven-minute ceremony.
The couple exchanged rings with the words “with this ring I marry you and pledge you my ever faithful love.” Patrick’s ring was inscribed “Together through Christ” L.J. to P.N., 8-6-66." Luci had two wedding bands, one to be worn on each side of the engagement ring. Though Patrick was heard to say the words while placing the ring on the finger only once, the second ring was blessed and it is assumed was slipped on the bride’s finger with no extra ceremony.
Following the exchange of rings and blessings, the couple, completely relaxed, returned to their kneeler, smiling and talking to each other. They followed the rest of the Mass reading from one missal though Patrick had a second in his pocket which he took out once and then returned to his pocket.
At the Offertory, servers, Fathers William Kopp, O.M.I, and Arthur McDonough, O.M.I., of the Shrine staff, brought the ciborium to Patrick and the cruets to Luci, which in turn were received by Fathers Kuzinskas and Father Kaifer.
Following the Our Father of the Mass, Patrick took Luci by the arm assisting her in kneeling for the nuptial blessing read by Archbishop O’Boyle.
At this point in the ceremony the maid of honor, Lynda Byrd Johnson, joined the trio of attendants, apparently overcome by the heat and excitement. Though she didn’t lose consciousness, she appeared to be feeling weak and Msgr. Thomas Grady reached her first followed by Father Walter Mooney, who administered amulets of ammonia. Eventually she accepted the offer of a chair and sat with her head bowed for a few moments, while Father Mooney stood by.
By the end of the Mass she was sufficiently recovered to assist with the bride’s train as they turned to leave the altar.
Communion at the Mass was given under both species, a privilege extended on the wedding day. Archbishop O’Boyle first gave the Sacred Host to Patrick, then to Luci. He then brought the chalice to Patrick, who received it with both hands. Then Luci drank from the chalice, which was donated to the Shrine by the Knights of Columbus of Texas.
At the end of the Mass, Archbishop O’Boyle read a blessing from Pope Paul. Signed by the Papal Secretary of State, Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, the message from the Vatican reads “On the joyous occasion of their wedding the Holy Father sends to Patrick J. Nugent and Luci Baines Johnson personal felicitations and imparts to them his apostolic benediction praying that it may be for them a pledge of abiding Divine assistance and of abundant heavenly favors in their married life.”
Archbishop O’Boyle and the concelebrants congratulated the bride and groom and Father Schmitz took Luci’s right arm signaling the couple to turn to the congregation. The bridal party left the sanctuary at a very deliberate pace.
Before leaving the church, Luci went to the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel to the left of the main altar and placed her bouquet before a picture of St. Agatha, patron saint of nursing. The picture was a reproduction of the saint’s likeness as it appears in mosaic at an altar in the crypt church. It had been previously decided that it would be impractical to make the trip into the crypt. There was a second bouquet which Luci threw to her attendants. Though not definitely confirmed, this bouquet was at the kneeler of the side altar, or was handed to Luci by an unidentified gentleman stationed at the altar throughout the ceremonies.
One of the impracticalities of having Luci make the trip to the crypt was the fact that the entrance area of the crypt had been established as press headquarters. The press headquarters’ was quickly abandoned following Mass in the dash for the White House, where the couple posed for pictures, received wedding guests, cut the thirteen-tiered wedding cake with an assist from the President and danced to the music of Peter Duchin.
A touch of ecumenism at the wadding was added with the singing of a favorite hymn of Luci’s from the Episcopal hymnal. The hymn, by Ralph Vaughn Williams, began, “At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.”
At the end of the day guests gathered below the Truman balcony to await the throwing of the bouquet. And for some reason, at that time it was particularly evident that Luci and Patrick had achieved to some measure the “private” wedding they had wanted though it was held in the national spotlight.
The President appeared on the balcony with Courtney Valenti, young daughter of former White House aide Jack J. Valenti, who had a gay time throwing a package of rice to guests below. The package was then thrown back to the President who gave it back to Courtney. The game went on until Luci and Patrick appeared.
After two false passes Luci threw the bouquet, and, in a just right ending, her maid of honor Lynda caught it. Luci thanked all for the most magnificent day of her life, the couple said their goodbyes and Courtney Valenti cried because she wanted to stay on the balcony. On the White House lawn, pieces of pink net which held the rice, blew about and made little rosettes on the lawn.
Arkansas Catholic, August 12, 1966
Supplemented with: https://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/?a=d&d=cst19660812-01.1.1&srpos=71
Nation Attends Wedding
The United States went to a wedding last Saturday.
The bride was Luci Baines Johnson, 19, of this city; the bridegroom was Patrick John Nugent, 23, of Wauken, Ill.
Hosts to some 700 of those attending in person were President and Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson, parents of the bride.
Hosts to other millions were the three nationwide television networks.
For the first wedding of a member of an incumbent first family to take place in a Catholic church, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was set with a background of white flowers and great masses of greenery contrasting with the Shrine’s massive and brilliant mosaic of Christ in Majesty.
Kneeling on a double kneeler in the sanctuary of the church, and flanked by maid of honor Lynda Bird Johnson and Gerard Nugent, Sr., proxy best-man and father of the bridegroom, Luci and Pat consented to marriage according to the ancient rite of the Church. Witnessing the marriage was Father John A. Kuzinskas of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Chicago, a longtime friend of the bridegroom.
The marriage ceremony followed the Gospel of a concelebrated nuptial Mass. Chief concelebrant was Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington. Other concelebrants were Father Kuzinskas and Father William J. Kaifer, S.J., of Georgetown University School of Nursing, advisor to the bride during her student days there.
Seated in the sanctuary were Archbishop John P. Cody of Chicago, the bridegroom’s archdiocese, and Msgr. Thomas J. Grady, director of the National Shrine.
The 700 guests at the wedding followed the ceremony from leaflet missals arranged especially for the occasion. Bound in gold and white with the front cover bearing a picture of the Shrine, “The Mass On the Day of Marriage,” was in the usual arrangement for such booklets but omitted directional notes. Also omitted were the prayers at the foot of the altar which the choir sang.
Rep. Hale Boggs, D-La., a Catholic layman and friend of the Johnson family, read the epistle, containing St. Paul’s famous advice for a happy marriage:
“Wives be submissive to their husbands as though to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife…
“Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies…”
Father Kaifer read St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Luci and Pat received Communion in the form of both bread and wine.
Following the ceremony, Luci placed her bridal bouquet before a color reproduction of the shrine’s St. Agatha altar. The reproduction was placed at the altar of Our Lady to the left of the main altar, since a trip to the crypt altar where the St. Agatha Shrine is was impractical. St. Agatha [is the pa]tron saint of nursing, th[e pro]fession Luci studied las[t year] at Georgetown University.
The “something bor[rowed”] carried by Luci Baines J[ohnson] at her wedding was a m[other-]of-pearl and gold rosary [from] her sister, Lynda. The rosary was present[ed to] the older Johnson girl [by the] late Pope John XXIII du[ring a] 1962 audience.
For “something old” [Luci] chose a 58-uear old ivor[y lace] handkerchief made by [her] great-grandmother, Mrs. [Ruth] Ament Huffman Baines, [for her] daughter, Mrs. Josefa Saunders, to carry at he[r wed]ding in 1908.
A gold locket tied with [a blue] ribbon and belonging to Gerard P. Nugent, mot[her of] the bridegroom, was carr[ied by] Luci for a touch of “som[ething] blue.”
The “sixpence in her [shoe”] was the first of Adele Ros[coe in] Perth Amboy, N.J., the f[irst of] many people around the [coun]try who thought to sen[d one] along.
The “something new” [was] really new. Her trad[itional] wedding gown by Prisci[lla] Boston provided about th[e only] detail of the ceremony su[ccess]fully kept from the public [until the] big day.