Q&A with Mark Shriver

Loyola's 2014 Commencement speaker discusses his dad, the Jesuits, parenting, and his passion for his work

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos courtesy of Mark Shriver/A Good Man

When the Class of 2014 receives their degrees on May 17, Mark K. Shriver will deliver the Commencement address. Without giving away what his remarks will include, Loyola magazine asked Shriver, who is senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Save the Children, to take a few minutes to talk about his work, family, and book, A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver.

What inspired you to start writing about your father?

When my dad died, my mom had died 18 months earlier. My brother encouraged me to start writing stories and reflections about my father. The book is the story of a son trying to figure out how his father did all these supposedly great things but was also very, very good to people who were not big shots. I wanted to find out how he accomplished so much—and more importantly how he did it with such joy.

How did your father fit so much into his life? The reader starts to wonder whether he ever slept.

He did not sleep a lot. As I wrote in the book, when I tried to sneak into the house after curfew in high school, the light would be on in his room, and he would be reading. He had that unique insight that everything was a gift from God. You either believe God is everywhere or God is nowhere, and he realized that every interaction, every moment was a way to interact with God.

How do you feel your Jesuit education prepared you for your career and your life today?

I think the Jesuits are the best educators in the world. I have huge respect for their commitment to education, their commitment to faith, to God, to Jesus. I love the way they challenge you—and challenge me intellectually and spiritually. They care about what they’re teaching. They care about your spiritual development. They make you think. Also, in my case, they make you reflect and pray.

How do you feel your parents have influenced your parenting style?

Just when the book was about to go to print, my daughter Molly said she was going to write a book about me. “That’s so sweet,” I said. She said, “I’m going to call it, An OK Dad” (laughs). So I’m trying to do some of the things my parents did, but I’m not doing it that well.

The unconditional love is so hard and so important. I lose my patience with my kids, but my father and my mother never really did.

Being patient with your children is so hard. How do you think your parents managed to do that?

Well, they went to Mass every day. That’s a great example, and they were grounded in something that’s more important. You think your mom’s great and your dad’s great, but when they get down on their knees every day, they’re acknowledging that they’re not in charge.

That message is pretty un-American, and pretty un-machismo, but my dad had his own definition about what it meant to have a relationship with God, and a different definition of what it means to be a man. He had faith that commanded acts of hope and acts of love. That’s really what his life was characterized by—acts of hope and love, from integrating the schools in Chicago with Martin Luther King, to instituting the Peace Corps, to working on the war on poverty, to his involvement in starting the Special Olympics, to his relationship with my mother.

I enjoyed reading the letters your father wrote to you, especially the one he wrote on your graduation day. Have you saved many of his letters?

I have four huge boxes of them in my garage and another two boxes in the basement. If you have your mother or father’s letters, you can always have that relationship with them. Nowadays people don’t write; they text “How RU.” My dad would take a piece of paper and write out or type a letter. It could be about the Orioles. It could be about something he read in the Old Testament. He took the time to write it, and when you read it when you’re 25 it’s different from when you read it when you’re 35—or now when I’m 50. You can always learn from your parents, even if they’re not physically here.

Was there a lot of pressure growing up in a family that was so much in the public eye?

I think growing up there’s pressure and you don’t even realize it. I have an incredible gang of cousins. There are fights but everybody supports and loves each other. There are huge upsides to that, and there are huge upsides to what the family has done in the public arena.

How do you continue to find energy and excitement in your work for Save the Children?

I was talking to a lady today who had come from Microsoft, where she made a bunch of money, and now she works for a foundation. She said, “It’s so much more fun when you’re creating something that actually helps people.” The work I did in Baltimore City in Cherry Hill was very entrepreneurial. You’re working with people, you’re growing, you’re trying to impact more families—more kids—in a positive way. My work for Save the Children is similar in that it’s incredibly challenging, stimulating, and rewarding. What’s more exciting than that?

Read Part I, Part II, and Part III of Loyola magazine’s discussion of Mark Shriver’s A Good Man.

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