A Letter from Grace HardingFormer Director, Department for Persons with Disabilities

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

I had the great honor of working with Eunice Kennedy Shriver on a very special project entitled The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program to Improve Catholic Religious Education for Children and Adults with Mental Retardation during the late 1990's. Over the six years of working with Mrs. Shriver, I was continually inspired by her devotion to the Catholic Faith. Allow me to share some of my memories of Mrs. Shriver as we planned this religious education curriculum.

I knew from the very beginning of this project that the curriculum was very important to both Mr. and Mrs. Shriver and throughout the writing of it (done by a very dedicated group of professional special educators), I would meet with them to discuss the progress of the work. Mrs. Shriver examined each and every lesson plan and made many suggestions.

One day, while sitting with her in her office in Washington, D.C., as we were reviewing the work, she began to tell me how her parents taught the Kennedy children their prayers, often over the dinner table. At that time, she repeated from memory several of the prayers still dear to her heart.

On another occasion, I called her late in the afternoon to discuss the curriculum. She very graciously said, "I want to talk with you, but I am on my way to Mass and it is a ten minute walk and I don't want to be late. Can you call me tomorrow?" Of course I said, yes and sat somewhat stunned that this great woman was walking by herself somewhere in D.C. on a cold winter afternoon to attend daily Mass. She taught by example!

While putting together a section of the curriculum on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mrs. Shriver asked specifically to include a lesson plan on Our Lady of Guadalupe. which is one of her special devotions. Naturally, there is a special lesson on Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Once the curriculum was written, we had to find ways to publicize it. I asked Mrs. Shriver if she would come to the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where I worked to attend a press conference to announce the curriculum. She agreed to do so and to my delight, both Mr. and Mrs. Shriver attended the press conference.

At the conference, our Bishop, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, officially presented the first copy of the curriculum to Mrs. Shriver. During the press conference, Mrs. Shriver referred to Bishop Wuerl as a champion for people with special needs.

After the conference, Bishop Wuerl hosted a luncheon at his home in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Shriver. After the grace, Bishop Wuerl toasted Rose Kennedy, Mr. and Mrs. Shriver, the Kennedy Family and all present who worked on the curriculum. With just a drop left in our flutes, Mrs. Shriver said, "I would like to make a toast. I would like to toast the Blessed Mother." We were all in awe of this great woman with such a deep love of her faith.

In the year 2000, the curriculum project was coming to a close. I asked Mrs. Shriver if we could hold a final celebratory conference in Boston at the J.F. Kennedy Library and, if so, would she be able to attend. She agreed and we had wonderful celebration with many catechists and parents gathered to thank her for this special curriculum.

Mrs. Shriver flew to Boston the night before the conference and as I greeted her as she deplaned, the first thing she said to me was, "I've lost my rosary. What am I going to do?" It was quite a concern for her. However, I had already planned to give her a sterling silver millennium rosary from the Vatican during the conference the next day. She was beaming when she opened this gift.

Mrs. Shriver is world renowned for her contribution to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Through the Special Olympics she has changed millions of lives. She believed in the value and potential of people with special needs long before others recognized it. She is a crusader and a champion for people with special needs worldwide.

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy religious education curriculum in another jewel in her crown. Once again, through this curriculum she demonstrates her conviction that people with special needs are integral to society.

Mrs. Shriver has done what no one else has ever done. She is unique as the creator of the Special Olympics.

And through her beloved Catholic Faith, she has created another pathway to inclusion for people with special needs. All aspects of her life demonstrate her courageous conviction and accomplishments for the betterment of people with special needs.

It has been a great honor and a continued highlight of my life to have been able to sit in her shadow for a precious amount of time. Thank you, Mrs. Shriver for all you have done for humankind.

Grace Harding

Former Director, Department for Persons with Disabilites

Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh

About Grace Harding

Grace Harding is the former director of Department for Persons with Disabilities with the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.