BARNSTABLE, MASS. – Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who died on Aug 11, was “a woman of ardent faith and generous public service” in her work with the developmentally and physically disabled, said Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

In a letter to Shriver’s family posted on the Special Olympics website, the archbishop conveyed the condolences of Pope Benedict XVI.

The 88-year-old Shriver, sister of the late President John F. Kennedy, died in a hospital. At her side were her husband, R. Sargent Shriver, the couple’s five children and their spouses, and the Shrivers’ 19 grandchildren. She had been in failing health after suffering a couple of strokes in recent years.

A private funeral Mass was celebrated on Aug 14 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis.

A statement from the family said she “taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others”.

It noted her deep devotion to Mary. “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,” it said.

President Barack Obama called Shriver “an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation – and our world – that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit”.

In a letter to the Shrivers’ daughter, Maria, who is the wife of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger L. Mahony said her mother’s “extraordinary commitment to living out the Gospel values was an inspiration and source of strength for all whose lives she touched”.

“Her faith and generous spirit motivated her to reach out in love to make our society more aware of the dignity and gifts of all people, especially the mentally handicapped, the poor and the marginalised,” he wrote.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a member of one of the most prominent American Catholic political families of the 20th century. Born in Brookline, Mass., Jul 10, 1921, she was the fifth of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Her brother the president, was assassinated in 1963, and another brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was gunned down in 1968 as he campaigned for the presidency that year. Her youngest brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, has served in the U.S. Senate since he was first elected in 1962.

She and her husband had been married since 1953. R. Sargent Shriver was the first director of the Peace Corps, an initiative established during the Kennedy administration that still sends thousands of Americans each year to underdeveloped nations to help lift people out of disease and poverty.

In 1968 she organised the first Special Olympics. She was inspired to help the developmentally disabled achieve in life by what her older sister, Rosemary, endured. She was born with a mild form of developmental disability, but a frontal lobotomy when she was 23 years old further reduced her mental capacity. She died in 2005.

Shriver was a catalyst in getting a religious education programme for developmentally disabled adults launched in the mid-1990s.

In 1990 she shepherded the development of a values education curriculum, “Growing Up Caring”, with lessons to help adolescents learn to care about themselves and others, and to say no to sex, drugs and other pressures.

In 1972 she proposed a campaign called “One Million for Life” to recruit one million people willing to adopt unwanted children. In 1975 she called for the establishment of “life support centres” offering comprehensive services to those who want to save life, encourage motherhood and support the family.

In 1977, as Congress debated a ban on federal funding of abortion, she asked: “How do you equate the life of an unborn infant with the social well-being of a mother, a father or a family? If it is thought that the social well-being of the mother outweighs the rights of foetuses with congenital abnormalities, we do well to remember that more than 99 percent of abortions are done on normal foetuses.”

Her pro-life stances earned her many honours and awards over the years.

In 2006, Pope Benedict bestowed upon her the title of dame of the papal order of St. Gregory the Great. - CNS

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