Sargent Shriver joked in a speech once that despite all his professional accomplishments, he is probably best known for being Maria Shriver’s father. In a world obsessed with pop culture, there may be some truth to that, but to me he is known for being behind some of the most defining social welfare and civic engagement programs in our country’s history.
His son, Mark Shriver, recently released a book titled “A Good Man”, where he recounts stories from his childhood and the legacy his father left behind after he passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2011.
In this touching tribute, Mark talks about the three principles that guided his father’s life: faith, hope, and love, and the power behind those principles. He writes that his dad’s work was grounded in the faith he had in God and that it demanded hope and love in every facet of life.
Sargent Shriver is credited for being the architect behind President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and was one of the directors of the Office of Economic Opportunity whose job it was to administer the local application of federal funds targeted against poverty. This was the first time the issue of poverty became a national concern and led to the development of programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today.
That policy initiative took place during a pivotal time in our country’s history. Poverty was at an all-time high, the economy was suffering, and we could have done a lot of different things, but Sargent realized that something needed to be done to help the less fortunate. He understood the specific need, and he came up with what was an innovative idea for that time which was to provide resources to individuals that were struggling to make ends meet. To Sargent, it was about equality, and the programs that were born out of the War on Poverty aimed to help level the playing field for the least among us.
Today, we find ourselves at a similar pivotal time in history. There are more than 46 million people in this country living in poverty—and that number is increasing. I imagine that when Sargent Shriver was developing the policies behind the War on Poverty he knew that reducing poverty and ensuring that all the remaining poor live with dignity would require reconsidering all our old ways of thinking about the poor and how to help them, just as we are doing right now.
There still exists an appetite for change in Washington and we need to ensure that change occurs, but Washington needs help from the people on the ground.
There are some that read this and feel overwhelmed by the pure scope of the problem and may want to just turn away. But today I want to challenge all of you to engage now in a way you have never envisioned before.
As Catholics, we are mandated to care for the least among us and if we put our minds to it, we can reshape the social contract of our country so that no person is left out or left behind.
I urge you to think of Sargent Shriver‘s principles of faith, hope, and love. I hope you channel the FAITH you have in GOD to create HOPE and LOVE in your work and demand it, as he did, in every facet of your life.
Those of you who are familiar with Sargent Shriver will find a heart-warming account of one man's life that was lived for others. For those of you who may not be familiar with Sargent Shriver, I encourage you to read “A Good Man” and be inspired by how one man was able to do great things for an even greater good.