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At Funeral Mass, political commentator Mark Shields remembered as a man of faith and humor who believed ‘politics is about justice’

This portrait of Mark Shields, a longtime political commentator on “PBS NewsHour,” was displayed at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., before his June 22 Funeral Mass. (Family photo)

At his June 22 Funeral Mass, political pundit Mark Shields – a fixture for 33 years as a commentator on the “PBS NewsHour” – was remembered as a man who believed in the power of politics serving the common good, and as a man of faith and humor. The Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., where Shields was a longtime parishioner, drew hundreds of people. Shields, who was 85, died at his Chevy Chase home on June 18 from complications of kidney failure.

John Carr – the co-director of the Initiative on Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University and one of the speakers at the Mass – said he visited Shields two days before his death and told his friend that he “made Washington and the nation better places.”

Carr said the full church of people at Shields’ Funeral Mass had come together “to say thank-you and goodbye to a good man who showed us what a life of faith, hope and love can achieve.”

Msgr. John Enzler – the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and a former pastor at Blessed Sacrament – was the main celebrant for the Funeral Mass, joined by five other priests.

“For me and the priests here today, we knew Mark also as a man of faith,” he said, noting that Shields was an usher at the noon Sunday Masses at Blessed Sacrament. Msgr. Enzler added, “I loved his faith. I loved his integrity. I love the way he lived that faith every day and the way he was able to share that faith, even on national television.”

Before the Funeral Mass, the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard newspaper asked some people there about Mark Shields’ life and legacy.

Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame and a concelebrant at the Mass, praised Shields, who earned a philosophy degree from Notre Dame, was an ardent supporter of its sports teams, and returned to the campus in 1997 to receive an honorary degree and serve as commencement speaker.

“Mark combined deep political insights with a deep humanity and a wonderful sense of humor to give perspective on our nation’s political life,” Father Jenkins said. “…He was a man of faith throughout his life, committed to serving the less fortunate.”

Also attending the Mass was Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the board of directors for Special Olympics International. He told the Catholic Standard that Shields was a man of “decency, respect for everyone, faith and a fierce determination to work for the good as he understood it, and the great humility to know he didn’t know all the answers.” Shields, he said, was a voice for what is “the best of our country.”

At the beginning of the Mass, speakers remembered Shields’ political commentary and his trademark sharp wit.

His niece Carolyn Ryan noted that on the day that Mark Shields died, he was trending on Twitter, even though he didn’t use that social media platform and once said that “Twitter sounded like a nervous condition.”

On that day when Shields died, his colleague and friend on the PBS’s NewsHour, anchor Judy Woodruff, tweeted that the program’s “beloved longtime Friday night analyst Mark Shields, who for decades wowed us with his encyclopedic knowledge of American politics, his sense of humor and mainly his big heart, has passed away at 85, with his wife Anne at his side.”

In her remarks at the Funeral Mass, Ryan told how a man once nervously went up to her uncle at a subway platform and blurted to him, “You’re Brooke Shields!” mistaking his name for that of the movie actress.

“Mark had many gifts, but the most remarkable one was the way he made people in any station in life feel special,” she said.

Another speaker, the pollster and public opinion analyst Peter Hart, joked about how Shields, his friend of more than 50 years, “was my Catholic rabbi… To many, he was the priest of the Potomac.”

Hart added that “Mark did for the nation what he did for so many of us. He gave us the confidence and hope to be our best selves.”

Carr in his remarks said that Mark Shields was a faithful man, faithful to his family, to his nation, to his alma mater Notre Dame, to his Church, to politics and to his Democratic party.

“He was faithful to his Church, living the Beatitudes, championing its social teaching and challenging its failures. Mark was a ‘Pope Francis Catholic’ before there was a Pope Francis,” Carr said.

In being faithful to politics, Carr said that Shields insisted “public service is a vocation, compromise is not evil, and politics is the pursuit of the common good.”

Noting Shields’ humor, Carr said when a “particularly self-absorbed pol asked him, ‘Why do people take such an instant dislike to me?’, Mark’s response was, ‘It saves them time.’”

Another speaker, Al Hunt – formerly the Washington Bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal who appeared on CNN’s “Capital Gang” show with Shields – praised his friend as a man who “believed President Kennedy’s notion that politics is a noble and honorable profession and the best vehicle for social change.”

He said Shields admired politicians who were advocates for “the less privileged and the less powerful,” and championed his political ideals with clarity and civility.

Hunt noted that “the legendary Shields humor was sharp but never mean.” He added that Shields was loved by his “NewsHour” staff colleagues, but they knew that when he tried out a joke before taping the show, that it was okay to laugh if it was funny, but they knew not to laugh if it wasn’t funny, because “he may use it on national television.”

Gordon Peterson – formerly the longtime anchor of WUSA-TV in Washington – in his remarks joked about how Mark Shields and his friend, the political humorist Mark Russell, were often mistaken for one another. When Peterson was covering the Democratic National Convention in Boston in 2004 and saw Shields walking on a nearby street, he loudly greeted him as Mark Russell, shouting that he was his biggest fan. Peterson said a woman standing near him gave him a withering glare and admonished him, telling him in a heavy Boston accent that man was actually Mark Shields from PBS’s “NewsHour,” which she said he would know if he occasionally watched intelligent television.

On a serious note, Peterson, who recruited Shields as a panelist on the “Inside Washington” show that he moderated, said of him, “In my long life, I have never met a more fundamentally decent human being than Mark Shields.”

The last speaker offering remembrances of Mark Shields was his daughter, Amy Shields Doyle. She said that while growing up, she often answered the telephone at home for her father. “Little did I know I was talking to so many incredible people from the political sphere. To me, they just were dad’s friends. He loved people, and he loved politics.”

She noted that her father was not organized and left piles of papers in any room where he was working. They found his instructions for the Funeral Mass on pieces of paper, except for one last page they uncovered in a drawer the day before the Mass.

“He wanted us to say he was a man who loved his family, his alma mater, his friends, his country and his church, who stood up for the underdog, the less fortunate and forgotten, and who believed politics was about justice,” Amy Shields Doyle said.

The Funeral Mass program had already been prepared for printing, so they weren’t able to include a quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that Mark Shields wanted on the last page: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have so much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

She also shared the last words that her father said to her mother on the morning that he died: “I have been so lucky.”

Shields, who was a native of South Weymouth, Massachusetts, served in the Marine Corps after college as an enlisted man, and his death notice in the Washington Post jokingly noted that he “managed to get all the way to Private First Class before he was honorably discharged in 1966.”

The Funeral Mass closed with a trumpeter playing taps and with an organist playing the Marine Corps hymn.

The death notice in the Post also noted that “Mark kept his wife Anne Hudson Shields laughing for 55 years, and was very beloved by his daughter Amy Shields Doyle; his son-in-law Christo; his grandchildren Jack and Frances; and 17 treasured nieces and nephews.”

In lieu of flowers, people were asked to consider a donation to SOME (So Others Might Eat), where Shields served on the board of directors, or to the William and Mary Shields Scholarship Program at the University of Notre Dame which Shields established for students who are the first members of their families to go to college.

Related story:

Mark Shields dies; political commentator wore Catholic faith on his sleeve