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Author, politician reflect on Shriver

Nicholas Bock | Friday, October 19, 2007

Robert “Sargent” Shriver, the American activist known for leading the Peace Corps and for his involvement in numerous social programs, including the Special Olympics and Upward Bound, was honored Thursday night with a documentary presentation about his life.

Former Sen. Harris Wofford, D-Pa., and Scott Stossel, the editor of Atlantic Monthly magazine and the author of “Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver,” introduced “American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver,” with statements about a man they described as “the greatest social inventor of our time.”

The film presentation about Shriver took place in the Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Stossell said he believes – after conducting research, interviewing politicians and speaking to Shriver – that Shriver is the “most optimistic and idealistic person I know.”

“Shriver may have accomplished more than any other American,” he said.

Shriver, who in 1994 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, is known for his service to the poor and his role as an activist for civil rights, Stossel said. Stossel expressed frustration that many Americans know little about Shriver.

Wofford said he first met Shriver at Notre Dame.

“Here at Notre Dame is where I had my first talk with Shriver about race issues in Chicago,” Wofford said.

Their conversation convinced Wofford that Shriver was a man dedicated to “making it fast and doing it big.” Their relationship continued, and the two eventually began working on John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign for president together. Kennedy was Shriver’s brother-in-law.

Wofford recounted how Shriver convinced Kennedy to call Coretta Scott King after the arrest of her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a dangerous move politically; but, Shriver argued, it was the moral thing to do.

Shriver and Wofford helped determine the “best and the brightest” to make up Kennedy’s cabinet, and Shriver was commissioned by Kennedy to develop the Peace Corps. Although it was originally considered a lost cause, Wofford said, Shriver’s idealism helped him develop the Corps into an institution that exceeded anyone’s expectations.

The speakers described Shriver as a “champion of Catholic Social Teaching.”

The discussion and documentary were sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns in connection with its 25th anniversary theme of solidarity. The documentary following Shriver’s life will be shown on PBS Jan. 28, 2008.