Friends and family of political candidate and public servant R. Sargent Shriver remembered his life in a Jan. 22. Mass in Potomac, Maryland celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
A devout Catholic, Shriver died at the age of 95 after years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy, he was the first director of the Peace Corps. He also served as the 1972 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, the last pro-life candidate to rise to such prominence in the party.
He later served as U.S. ambassador to France. Shriver had five children and 19 grandchildren.
Attendees at the funeral Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church included Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton, who paid tribute to his life of service.
"Fifty years ago, President Kennedy told us we should ask what we can do for our country," Clinton said. "A whole generation of us understood what President Kennedy meant by looking at Sargent Shriver's life."
First lady Michelle Obama and television personality Oprah Winfrey also attended. Musical performances came from Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, Vanessa Williams, U2 front man Bono, and Glen Hansard.
Shriver’s son Mark recounted his father’s last years, according to the AP.
"Alzheimer's robs you of so much. In Dad's case, it stripped him to the core," he said. Still, Shriver "would shake your hand and smile, look you in the eye and tell you you were the greatest and that he loves you."
Shriver’s body was buried at St. Francis Xavier Cemetery in Centerville, Massachusetts hours after his funeral. He was laid to rest alongside his wife Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics. She died in 2009 at the age of 88.
Cardinal Wuerl in a Jan. 19 statement said Shriver left a legacy both in his “deeply spiritual” faith life and in his example of service to “make it much more reflective of the care and love we all should have for each other as children of the same loving God.”
“Sargent Shriver was proud to live his faith in public life,” he continued, saying his prayers were with the Shriver family and the entire Kennedy family.
At the funeral, the cardinal advised Shriver’s grandchildren to live their lives with the same courage and fortitude as their grandparents.
"Ask your parents to tell you stories. Read what your grandfather has written. When you think of him, rejoice in the heritage he has given you," the cardinal said.
Both Shriver and his wife were signatories to a full-page July 1992 New York Times advertisement protesting the Democratic Party’s embrace of legalized abortion. The ad, titled “The New American Compact,” 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.
While many Catholic commentators have focused on Sargent Shriver’s principled pro-life stand and public service, Shriver played a significant role in the controversies over government funding of birth control.
As head the Office of Economic Opportunity, Shriver led the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty.” His office was also the first to fund birth control programs at a time when the American political establishment was embracing contraceptives and many influential people were pressing for a change in Catholic teaching.
In a series of speeches in the mid-1960s, published on the website of the Sargent Shriver Peace Institute, Shriver praised the Office of Economic Opportunity for being “the first agency in the history of the federal government to give public money directly to private agencies for family planning purposes.”
His Oct. 1967 speech at Hardin-Simmons University in Abeline, Texas noted Catholic criticism that his office was “doing too much by way of providing money for Planned Parenthood.”
After Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood would go on to become the United States’ largest abortion provider.
The July 7, 1966 Denver Catholic Register reported that Shriver circulated a memorandum saying his office had “absolutely no hesitation” in approving family planning grants.
Bishop Paul F. Tanner, then-general secretary of the National Catholic Welfare Conference--a predecessor of the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference--criticized the memo for abandoning neutrality on government support for birth control in favor of “outright advocacy.” Catholic bishops at the time voiced concern that the U.S. government would pressure families in economic distress to use it.