(David L Ryan / Globe Staff)
CENTERVILLE -- Dozens of members of the Kennedy family formed an informal receiving line this afternoon inside a gray-shingled church on Cape Cod, shaking hands with strangers and listening to stories about the lives touched by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Family members -- including Maria Shriver and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- stood near Shriver's casket inside Our Lady of Victory and greeted mourners flocking to the public wake, which runs until 7 p.m. The Kennedys introduced themselves by first name, asked people how far they had come, listened patiently to people's memories, and thanked them for coming.
"It was so warm and friendly and open," said Barbara Johnson, 62, a nursing director at a center for disabled adults who came from Woburn because of Shriver's work on behalf of the mentally retarded. "I shook hands with every member of that family and they appreciated us, which was so welcoming."
Other extended members of the Kennedy clan sat in pews near the altar and spoke quietly among themselves, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who is married to Maria Shriver. Senator Edward M. Kennedy was notably absent from the wake. He attended a private family Mass at the Shriver home Tuesday night, but was not expected to come today to the church. He also does not plan to attend the funeral tomorrow, but his wife, Vicki Reggie Kennedy, is expected to attend, according to a spokesman for the senator
Among the mourners were US Representative William Delahunt, state Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
On her website, Winfrey said Shriver would have made a "great president."
"She was the first (and besides Barack Obama, the only) person who ever inspired me to say, 'If you run for president, I'll campaign for you.' ... She embodied the idea of leader as servant," she said.
Photographs from Eunice Kennedy Shriver's life rested on easels at the edge of the chapel, showing images from her wedding, her work with the Special Olympics, life in Hyannis Port, and her campaigning for Adlai Stevenson when he ran for president in the 1950s. One family portrait showed Shriver clutching a football with her high school-aged brother, Teddy, crouched at her feet holding a football of his own.
Intermittent rain and a pall of gray clouds greeted a steady stream of mourners who came to honor Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics who died on Tuesday at age 88 after a series of strokes. Members of Cape Abilities, a disability advocacy group on the Cape, carried clutches of flowers into the church.
The Kennedy family arrived at the church at 12:35 p.m. in a caravan led by a Barnstable police cruiser. The procession included a hearse, a black Cadillac sedan, five dark-colored stretch limousines, and a black Chevy suburban. The family had a private 30-minute service before the church opened to the public just after 1 p.m.
Outside the church, her nephew Robert F. Kennedy Jr., spoke to reporters.
"She completely had an absence of vanity," he said. "She didn't care what she was wearing, what she looked like, she never did her hair. And nobody noticed because of the chaos she brought with her. She was in constant motion, constant activity, and she was one of the greatest organizers of humanity that ever lived. If she had been a man, she would have been president of the United States."
About 125 people were waiting outside when the doors opened and the church parking lot was already full with a line of a dozen cars stretching in both directions waiting for a spot. Several dozen reporters and photographers from the local and national media waited beneath tents outside the church.
At 6 p.m., the Rev. Richard Fragomeni, an associate professor of liturgy and preaching at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, was scheduled to lead a half-hour prayer service.
"The family invites the public to attend the wake and to share with them in mourning and celebrating Mrs. Shriver," her family said in a statement issued last evening.
A funeral Mass for Mrs. Shriver will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis, the family's statement said.
Attendance at the Mass is restricted to family and invited guests; the event is not open to the public. Those wishing to watch may do so via the Internet. The Mass will be broadcast live at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org.
Before the funeral Mass, Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement officers will carry the Special Olympics Torch to the church. A hearse carrying Mrs. Shriver's casket, with the family walking behind it, will follow.
Burial will be private and the Shriver family said it will not release information until after the interment. To read her Globe obituary, click here.
(David L Ryan / Globe Staff)
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more