How Sargent Shriver planned JFK’s funeral: “He enacted his faith…”

Just in time for Father’s Day, Mark Shriver has published a memoir about his father called “A Good Man.”  At one point, he describes, powerfully and poignantly, how his father planned the funeral for JFK:

I firmly believe that Dad’s faith in God gave him the strength and the discipline to orchestrate the funeral events— at times grisly, at times heartbreaking, by turns wrapped in ambition, intrigue, chaos, pathos, and raw grief…

...From addressing the rumored threat of another assassination to satisfying a nation’s craving for solemn pageantry, from consoling a grieving widow to calming his grief- stricken, pregnant wife, from balancing a functioning government to honoring a dead man and his empty office, he fulfilled all his tasks with such grace because they were, simply, secondary.

They were the things of this world— duties to be completed and completed well. But he wanted first and foremost to ensure a proper Catholic burial for the first Catholic president of the United States. Proper passage to life with God was what his dead brother-in-law most deserved.

He enacted his faith on that first night. He wanted a crucifix to be placed on the coffin, but the only options found that late on a Friday were inappropriately elaborate. Instead, he sent a car to retrieve the simple crucifix from above his bed so that it could be laid on the president’s casket. He removed it on the morning of the funeral. A few months later, sent by President Johnson to meet the pope, he took the crucifix down from his wall again and carried it to Rome to be blessed. A few days later, he asked the head of the Greek Orthodox Church to bless it. That crucifix hung over his bed for years, until he encased it in a concrete cross that now stands over his parents’ grave site in Westminster, Maryland.

We are all born into a web of relationships and circumstances, tragedies and opportunities. As I was coming into this world, my family lived through parades in Ireland one day and a funeral pro cession soon after. We never get to choose. My life in a famous and often star-crossed American clan would not be without its trials and disappointments, but I had as my father a man who not only was faith-filled and disciplined but who also insisted, in large part because of his faith, on the grace and joy in life. He possessed, and insisted on to me and his family and friends, a sustaining and empowering awareness of God’s active grace in the world.

When I was a young boy, that quality in him saved me from hopelessness; as I became an adult, it slowly shaped my vision for how to live, especially once I had to undertake the stern stuff of living without him.

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