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Married to a Kennedy, but dedicated to God


Sargent Shriver personified that disappearing breed: the principled Catholic man of the left.

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.

It was the brother-in-law who ennobled the family. Sargent Shriver married Eunice Kennedy in 1953, seven years after going to work for her father, Joseph P. Kennedy. A decorated veteran and outstanding executive in his own right, Shriver would often be considered an appendage to the famous family – a man dominated by his wife and the junior partner to the brothers Kennedy. But it was Sarge who lived the life of public service and personal integrity the brothers Kennedy only pretended to. Sarge, who died Tuesday at the age of 95, was the son that the corrupt Kennedy patriarch never deserved to have.

"Sarge regards serving Eunice and serving God; Eunice regards Sarge as her spiritual and intellectual anchor. Theirs is a formidable marriage," wrote Shriver's biographer, Scott Stossel.

They were formidable indeed. When launching the Peace Corps, JFK turned to Shriver to be its first director. Later, in the Johnson administration, Shriver was the first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity and the architect of the War on Poverty. From there, he launched many of America's signature social programs, including Head Start, Job Corps, Legal Services and Upward Bound. From 1968 to 1970, he was American ambassador in Paris, and in 1972 the vice-presidential nominee on the George McGovern ticket. Meanwhile, his wife would launch the Special Olympics, in which he would take a leadership role until his retirement in the mid-1990s.

"When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than these people who were retarded," Shriver would say on a visit to Special Olympians in China in 2000 (using a term that the Special Olympics no longer uses, but which then carried no condescension for the 85-yearold Shriver). "Well, I began to see that they had some attributes I didn't have. What I learned most from them was the meaning of the word 'love.' When you see someone who is mentally retarded express love, it is genuine love; there is no guile. It is pure, as God intended."

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.

Shriver was the most outstanding statesman in a tradition that has almost entirely disappeared – the principled Catholic man of the left.

The corrosive politics of abortion – in which Ted Kennedy played the most villainous role – allied the political left with the agenda of sexual libertinism, so much so that to defend traditional values and to be concerned for the poor now appear to be incompatible political positions. 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.

"He said, 'Tear down the mirror in front of you – the one that makes you look at yourself. Tear down the mirror and you will see the millions of people that need your help.' "

Perhaps Sargent kept his values while so many others betrayed theirs because politics was only a means for him, not an end, and he was ambitious for what power could achieve, not for power itself. His former speechwriter and friend, Colman McCarthy, has suggested that one day Sargent and Eunice Shriver will be canonized as saints. It's the right category to consider his legacy, for the true platform of Shriver's life was the Gospel.

It was a great oddity that Shriver's daughter would marry Arnold Schwarzenegger – a great caricature of manliness as opposed to the real virtue that Shriver lived. Perhaps something of the father-in-law's faith penetrated the surpassing vanity, naked ambition and malleable principles of the son-in-law.

"As someone who has always believed very strongly in the power of the body and the power of the mind and the power of will, Sargent taught me a new power: the power of the heart," Schwarzenegger said upon his death. "He said, 'Tear down the mirror in front of you – the one that makes you look at yourself. Tear down the mirror and you will see the millions of people that need your help.' "

Schwarzenegger built his fame and fortune in the world of mirrors, endlessly gazing upon his own magnificence. The world of politics and wealth is not altogether different, where people throw gala parties to congratulate themselves for their disinterested service, and give themselves awards to recognize their humility.

Sargent Shriver looked not to the mirror, but to the heavens, that he might better serve God's children on Earth.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Married to a Kennedy, but dedicated to God." National Post, (Canada) January 20, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2011 National Post
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