Catholic politician and public servant Robert Sargent Shriver died on Jan. 18 at the age of 95 in Bethesda, Maryland. He was remembered for his faith and leadership, his service to the poor and his prominent stand as a pro-life Democrat.
“Today we mourn the passing of one of America’s most beloved and respected citizens,” Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, commented.
Shriver was born to a prominent Maryland family on Nov. 9, 1915. He was educated in law at Yale University and served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific during the Second World War. He married Eunice Kennedy in the early 1950s and served on the Catholic Interracial Council of Chicago. His brother-in-law, President John F. Kennedy, appointed Shriver to create the Peace Corps program which sends American volunteers to developing countries to teach and to work on community projects.
As head the Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver led many government efforts to combat poverty. His office developed the Head Start program, the Volunteers in Service to America and Job Corps.
His political life included service as U.S. ambassador to France, a vice-presidential run in 1972 and a run for president in 1976.
He later became president and chairman of the Special Olympics, which his wife founded.
The last years of his life included a struggle with Alzheimer ’s disease. His daughter Maria Shriver, a former television journalist and former First Lady of California, published a children’s book on the subject.
Shriver leaves behind five children and 19 grandchildren. His wife Eunice died in 2009.
In a Jan. 18 statement, Cardinal O’Malley described him as a “champion” for millions of people and as a man dedicated to his family and public service.
“He changed the world for the better. His commitment to preserving and protecting human life at every stage of existence, especially for the unborn, and working to lift people out of poverty were exceptional gifts of love and humanity,” the cardinal continued.
Shriver and his late wife “showered us with their energy and devotion to faith and society and they shall remain ever in our thoughts and prayers.”
“We pray for the repose of Sargent’s soul and we ask that God grant him eternal rest in His loving Kingdom,” Cardinal O’Malley concluded.
Shriver and his wife were signatories to a full-page July 1992 New York Times advertisement protesting the Democratic Party’s embrace of abortion politics.
Titled “The New American Compact,” the ad denounced abortion as a drastic reversal of American progress towards liberty and justice for all. It declared the pro-abortion Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade to be “the most momentous act of exclusion in our history” which deprived every unborn human being of the “most fundamental” human right to life.
The ad also called for support for policies that help both mother and child, saying “We can choose to extend once again the mantle of protection to all members of the human family, including the unborn.”
If such choices are made, the signatories predicted, “America will experience a new birth of freedom, bringing with it a renewed spirit of community, compassion, and caring."
Columnist Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, writing in Canada’s National Post, compared Shriver favorably to other members of the Kennedy family.
“Robert Sargent Shriver lived his life as God intended. He was a devout Catholic, often at daily Mass and never without his rosary. A faithful husband and devoted father, he applied his considerable talent and influence on behalf of the weak and the poor. He knew the glamour of the spotlight, but worked for those in the shadows,” Fr. de Souza wrote.
“Shriver was the most outstanding statesman in a tradition that has almost entirely disappeared -- the principled Catholic man of the left.”
The columnist charged that the political left became allied with “the agenda of sexual libertinism” through “the corrosive politics of abortion.” This made the defense of traditional values and concern for the poor appear to be incompatible.
“Today's Democratic Party would never nominate a pro-life Catholic for national office; Shriver's nomination in 1972 was the last of its kind. The political left has become the party of secularism, something that pained both Sargent and Eunice Shriver in their latter years,” Fr. de Souza claimed.
He suggested that Shriver kept his values because for him politics was “only a means.” He also noted that Shriver’s former speechwriter and friend Colman McCarthy has suggested that Sargent and Eunice will be canonized as saints. Fr. de Souza said this was the right category for his legacy because “the true platform of Shriver’s life was the Gospel.”
A public wake for Shriver will be held at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C. from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday. A private funeral Mass will be held on Jan. 22 at Our Lady of Mercy in Potomac, Maryland on Saturday. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, will celebrate the Mass.