Institutional innovator: Sargent Shriver's life as an engaged Catholic and as an active liberal

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Theology


Department of Religious Studies


Advisor: Anthony Burke Smith


This dissertation argues that Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr.'s Roman Catholicism is undervalued when understanding his role crafting late 1950s and 1960s public policies. Shriver played a role in desegregating Chicago's Catholic and public school systems as well as Catholic hospitals. He helped to shape and lead the Peace Corps. He also designed many of the programs launched in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Shriver's ability to produce new policies and agencies within a broader structure of governance is well known. However, Shriver's Catholicism is often neglected when examining his influence on key public policy initiatives and innovations. This dissertation argues that Shriver's Roman Catholic upbringing formed him in such a way as to understand the nature of large bureaucracies and to see possibilities for innovation within an overarching structure. Shriver encountered both Catholic religious orders and lay sodalities at a young age and developed a posture of institutional imagination. This aspect of his Roman Catholic faith helped him to pursue social innovation within the framework of government power rather than from the edges of US society. Therefore, Shriver's Catholicism left him uniquely suited for generating new institutions within a broader context of the US government. Shriver's penchant for innovation echoes the formation of various religious orders and lay sodalities within Roman Catholicism that found room within a much broader Roman Catholic Church for addressing emergent problems.


Shriver, Sargent, 1915-2011, Catholic Church Societies, etc, Organizational effectiveness, Theology, Religion, Religious History, Political Science, International Relations, History, Sargent Shriver, War on Poverty, Peace Corps, Race, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, John F Kennedy, Lyndon B Johnson, Martin Luther King, Great Society, Institutional Imagination, Teilhard de Chardin, Catholic Social Teaching, Robert F Kennedy, Harris Wofford

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