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Cardinal: Shriver showed how ‘faith must engage world

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January 26, 2011

By Catholic News Service

POTOMAC, Md. — Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. was “a man for this age,” whose faith shaped his work on behalf of the poor around the world and his work in defending the dignity of all human life, said Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl at the Jan. 22 funeral Mass for the founding director of the Peace Corps.

Shriver — also a key architect of anti-poverty programs such as Head Start, VISTA, the Job Corps and Upward Bound — died Jan. 18 at the age of 95, and he had been suffering in recent years from Alzheimer’s disease.


Shriver funeral
Bobby Shriver walks past the casket during the wake for his father, Sargent Shriver, at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington Jan. 21. Shriver, who was founder and first director of the Peace Corps, died Jan. 18 at a Bethesda, Md., hospital at age 95. (CNS Photo)

“The life of Robert Sargent Shriver was not just one of accomplishment as husband, father, friend, public servant and founder. The life of Sargent Shriver was a testimony to belief in God and how faith must engage the world,” Cardinal Wuerl said in his homily at the Mass at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac that was attended by a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,000 people.

The Mass at Our Lady of Mercy had special poignancy, because the Shrivers faithfully attended daily Mass there over the years.

“Sargent Shriver was a man for this age. He perceived and addressed some of our deepest challenges before many fully understood the problems. His passion for truth flowed from his knowledge of Jesus who is the way, the truth and life. He is buried holding in his hands the rosary he prayed every day,” the cardinal said.

Shriver’s death came about a year-and-a-half after the death of his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a founder of the Special Olympics and member of one of the most prominent American Catholic political families of the 20th century.

A native of Maryland and lifelong Catholic, Shriver was “a man who personified the ideal of Catholic public service,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a Jan. 19 statement. He said Shriver was a Knight of Columbus.

Robert Sargent Shriver Jr. was born in 1915 in Westminster, Md. He was baptized by legendary Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, a family friend who served as his godfather.
His family eventually settled in New York City. Shriver graduated from Yale University and its law school. During World War II, he served overseas as a U.S. Navy officer. He was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he received during the bombardment of Guadalcanal.

After the war, Shriver practiced law in New York, then worked for Newsweek. It was at that time that he came to know the Kennedy family. The patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., hired Shriver to manage the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Shriver and Eunice Kennedy were married in New York at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1953 with Cardinal Francis Spellman presiding.

After President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Shriver accepted President Lyndon Johnson’s offer to administer the Office of Economic Opportunity, and he became known as the architect of the administration’s war on poverty. Shriver later accepted the post of ambassador to France, from 1968 to 1970.

In 1972, he ran for vice president on the 1972 ticket with George McGovern. Shriver replaced nominee Thomas Eagleton, who resigned from the ticket. In 1976, Shriver threw his hat into the presidential ring, but his candidacy was short-lived and he returned to private life and resumed his law career.

Shriver specialized in international law and foreign affairs with the Washington firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. He retired as partner in 1986 but remained counsel to the firm. He later served as president of the Special Olympics and then had a stint as the organization’s chairman of the board.

In addition to creating the Peace Corps, Shriver founded many social programs and organizations, including Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents and Special Olympics (with his wife).

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