Friends, Family Honor Pro-Life Champion Eunice Shriver

Family and close friends of Eunice Kennedy Shriver attended a Friday morning funeral to honor the woman known best for having been the sister of late President John F. Kennedy and for founding the Special Olympics as a prominent defender of life.

"She was preeminently prolife, against abortion and there to protect and underscore the dignity of every person. This, of course, manifested itself in her love for children with disabilities," commented Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston the evening after the invitation-only funeral.

"Certainly, what Eunice Shriver did made a positive impact in so many ways and was a very strong witness of her Catholic faith," he added.

At 2 a.m. ET on Tuesday, four days after Shriver was admitted into a local hospital's intensive care unit in critical but stable condition, Shriver's family reported that "the amazing Eunice Kennedy Shriver went home to God."

Though the immediate cause of her death has not yet been disclosed, some believe Shriver suffered from Addison's disease, a rare endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough steroid hormones.

In their statement following Shriver's death, Shriver's family focused solely on Shriver's "faith-driven life of love and service to others," which they said had inspire them and opened up opportunities for the 3.1 million people with mental disabilities who participate in 228 Special Olympics programs in 170 nations.

Shriver founded the Special Olympics in the 1960s as a national organization after expanding on a Chicago physical education teacher's idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs.

Before the Friday's service began, Special Olympians carried the Special Olympics torch into Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis, Mass., followed by the hearse with Shriver's casket and the family walking behind it.

Loretta Claiborne, a former Special Olympics athlete and longtime friend of Shriver's, delivered welcoming remarks at the service, which lasted around two hours.

"She was chosen to have a life to serve others, the weakest of the weak, the castaways, the throwaways of society, at the time they would say the mentally retarded, and I am one of those people," Claiborne said, according to The Associated Press.

In his remarks Friday night, O'Malley stressed that Shriver's faith and education were very important parts of what motivated her and "helped her to interpret reality, particularly the reality of disability and retardation."

"It (her faith in her life) was certainly the soil out of which grew her passion and dedication to the less fortunate and those who are challenged by disabilities and mental retardation," he stated.

Shriver's family similarly noted how she was "[i]nspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life ...."

"She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power," they stated after her death.

"We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always," the family added.

Shriver, who was 88 when she died, is survived by her husband, five children, and 19 grandchildren.

Her eldest daughter, Maria Shriver, is the wife of Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.