What would Eunice Kennedy Shriver do?

Shriver_Special_OlympicsAbout a year ago, a coalition of pro-life groups began a global effort to lower the percentage of unborn children who are aborted because they have been diagnosed as having Down syndrome. That statistic is believed to be about 90 percent, in large part because of parental fear the burden of raising a flawed or imperfect child.

That fact jumped into my mind as I mulled over one of the big stories in the nation’s major newspapers today.

In the end, I was left with this simple question: What would Eunice Kennedy Shriver do? What would she say about this issue, based on what we know about her life as a daily-Mass Catholic who was an openly pro-life defender of the rights of the weak, the defenseless and, especially, those faced with mental and physical challenges? Would the founder of the Special Olympics connect any of these intellectual and moral dots?

Let’s consult the Washington Post, why don’t we? You can read quite a bit there about her good deeds and, near the end, there is this piece of the puzzle:

Eunice Mary Kennedy was born July 10, 1921, at the Kennedy residence in Brookline, Mass. She grew up there and in the Bronx and Bronxville, N.Y. She was educated at Catholic schools, and at one time the family thought she might become a nun.

What about the obit in the Los Angeles Times, since she spent some crucial years on the West Coast? This feature contains many of the crucial elements of her story, with an emphasis — again — on politics, the Kennedy family lore and the agonizing, poignant story of Rosemary, the hidden sister who was mentally handicapped. Then there is this:

Eunice and Sargent Shriver’s marriage was widely considered the best in the big Kennedy clan. Both were regular churchgoers committed to public service, and they made room for fun. When Sargent Shriver was U.S. ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970, his wife installed a trampoline on the residence lawn and often invited diplomats to bounce a bit.

As the mother of four sons and a daughter, Eunice Shriver thoroughly believed “in motherhood as the nourishment of life,” once writing that “it is the most wonderful, satisfying thing we can do.”

Still, none of the major dots are connected. The faith is just there. The social activism is over there. The marriage is somewhere else.

What about the coverage in the newspaper of record, the New York Times? Once again, there are the lengthy and absolutely justified passages on her amazing work on behalf of the mentally and physically challenged. The importance of her own family is central. Then there is a brief mention of her faith:

Mrs. Shriver’s family said in a statement Tuesday morning, “She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more.” Mrs. Shriver, her family said, “taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others.”

There is also a more detailed reference to her very intense, serious Catholic education:

She attended Convent of the Sacred Heart Schools in the United States and England and Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. She received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Stanford in 1943.

baby_angels-4There were culture-of-life hints in the public remarks about her death (if not in the comments by political leaders). Thus, in the family’s public statement, we read:

Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing — searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. …

We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always. She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.

So what’s the point? Once again, news consumers can, if they are willing to veer over into the world of “conservative” news, hear a completely different chorus of praises for this — it goes without saying — relentlessly pro-life Democrat.

The LifeNews.com story is one of many that say what the mainstream stories did not say, connecting the dots that few connected.

Yes, this is niche news. But if you put the pieces of the puzzle together, is this the accurate picture?

Although other members of the Kennedy family abandoned their pro-life beliefs as their political stock rose, Eunice Kennedy Shriver never did. And for that, pro-life advocates are mourning the passing of the woman who founded Special Olympics. …

Shriver, a lifelong pro-life Democrat, was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Senator Edward Kennedy. But she was honored by Feminists for Life of America in 1998 as a “Remarkable Pro-Life Woman.” … Shriver was a member of the advisory committee of the Susan B. Anthony List, a women’s group dedicated to electing pro-life women to Congress. …

In 1992, Eunice and Sargent Shriver joined Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey many other influential pro-life leaders in signing a full-page ad in the New York Times protesting the Democratic Party’s embrace of the pro-abortion agenda.

‘We can choose to reaffirm our respect for human life. We can choose to extend once again the mantle of protection to all members of the human family, including the unborn. We can choose to provide effective care of mothers and children,” the ad said. “And if we make those choices, America will experience a new birth of freedom, bringing with it a renewed spirit of community, compassion, and caring,” it added.

Want more praise for this fierce Catholic Democrat? Go ahead, click here and read Baptist Press.

So did anyone in the mainstream press connect all of these dots? Only one person, that I can find. Kudos to Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report for his short online piece at the God & Country weblog, with links to back his case.

Will a more complete picture of this remarkable woman emerge in coverage of her funeral Mass? Stay tuned.

Images: The top photo is posted at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    One of the most promising lots and delivering little stories I’ve seen in quite a while was at http://www.necn.com/Boston/New-England/2009/08/11/What-role-does-religion-play/1250022916.html

    The headline, What role does religion play in Kennedy-Shriver family? , was promising but the story itself could almost have fit in a small series of tweets.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Eunice Shriver is lucky the mass media has ignored her pro-life activities. If they had they would have found a way to crucify her the way they have Sarah Palin for daring to be a female leader who wouldn’t kill her child.

  • Pingback: The pro-life Kennedy — Cranach: The Blog of Veith

  • Bern

    Not everyone–male and female leaders included–had the moral strength and fortitude, nor the worldly advantages, of a Eunice Kennedy Shriver. RIP.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I just saw this post, and am adding this late.
    Eunice Shriver had a close relationship with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in the 1990s, so I put together this short insert for the AP obit. I did not think about making the connection to the abortion of Down Syndrome children, in part because I believe she began her work before pre-natal diagnosis was commonplace or even possible.

    Mrs. Shriver was also an ardent opponent of abortion who in 1992 joined then-Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania in criticizing the Democratic Party’s abortion-rights agenda.

    She had close ties to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, and financed its creation of what became a national curriculum for teaching the Catholic faith to those with cognitive disabilities. She chose Pittsburgh as her laboratory because she knew and respected the work of its diocesan Office for Persons with Disabilities. The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program to Improve Catholic Religious Education for Children and Adults with Mental Retardation was published in 1996.

    “The curriculum will help to teach people with mental retardation the glories and challenges of the Catholic faith,” she said.

    The Rev. Kris Stubna, the diocesan secretary for education, called her “very keen, very intelligent and very passionate. She was passionate about inclusion and her desire to help people with special needs feel part of the faith community.”

  • Kathleen

    I didn’t realize her Pittsburgh connection. I have used some of the wonderful materials produced by GLEA when I was “church-breaking” my son, who has Asperger syndrome. Now I feel called to send them a nice donation in Mrs. Shriver’s memory. Thanks!