Noted journalist Cokie Roberts sang in parish choir and supported her Catholic school
Sep 23, 2019
As a political commentator for National Public Radio and ABC News, and as a best-selling author of books about women in American history, Cokie Roberts’ voice was nationally known.
And as a Catholic in the Washington area, she also lifted her voice in support of Catholic education, and in song at her parish. Roberts died on Sept. 17 at the age of 75 of complications due to breast cancer, and her Mass of Christian Burial was held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C., attended by noted media figures and government leaders, along with her many friends and admirers.
In the days following her death, many people reflected on how Roberts made an impact in the worlds of journalism and politics, and area Catholics also remembered her as a woman of faith.
Ron Frezzo, the former choir director of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland, remembers when years ago, Cokie Roberts sang in the parish’s Contemporary Ensemble at the noon Sunday Mass. After completing the taping for the Sunday morning “This Week” ABC News program then hosted by David Brinkley, she raced to Little Flower to sing in the choir.
“She would run in (church) right from the studio about 10 of 12 (o’clock),” he said. That dedication, he said, offered “a wonderful statement about the strength of her faith and her belief in the Catholic Church.”
Father William Foley, the pastor of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., noted that Cokie Roberts became a friend of his family because “she was a classmate of my cousin, Lucinda Pratt Pearlman at Stone Ridge (School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda) and they were the best of friends.”
In recent years Father Foley said he would see Cokie Roberts at Mass on Sundays at Blessed Sacrament, including about a month ago.
“Her faith was very important to her, but she wasn’t demonstrative about it,” the priest said, adding that even though she was a noted Washington journalist, she was at Mass not to flaunt herself, but just to be present there.
“She was simply there as one of the parishioners, and a very faith-filled one,” he said.
Msgr. John Enzler, the president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, said that years earlier, Cokie Roberts and her husband Steven, who is Jewish, served as chairs of the annual Catholic Charities Gala that raises funds for the Archdiocese of Washington’s outreach to the those in need.
But perhaps Cokie Roberts’ most enduring ties to the Catholic community in Washington came in her nearly lifelong connection to Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, which she began attending as a first grader, and graduated from high school there in 1960.
“I am a Stone Ridge girl,” Roberts said in a 2012 commencement address at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, adding that the school, along with her parents “really made me the person that I am today.”
On the day of Roberts’ death, Catherine Ronan Karrels, the Head of School at Stone Ridge and a 1986 graduate there, wrote a letter to the school’s community, saying, “The goals of Sacred Heart education – faith, intellect, service, community and personal growth – were at the core of who Cokie was. Her life was the perfect model of all that our community values and strives to achieve.”
Karrels, who became the first lay Head of School at her alma mater in 2008, said she was star-struck at first about meeting Roberts, who was then famous for her television and radio work.
“It only took one minute with Cokie to feel her enormous spirit of warmth, joy, kindness and humor,” she said.
The Stone Ridge Head of School noted how Roberts had a deep appreciation for her education there and for the wisdom of the Religious of the Sacred Heart who sponsored the school, and over the years she maintained personal relationships with the sisters who taught her.
“…She treasured those women with a tremendous sense of loyalty… (and) she truly believed it was her responsibility to ‘pay forward’ the opportunity of leadership by raising young women in the Sacred Heart tradition,” said Karrels.
The Stone Ridge leader pointed out how Roberts served on the school’s Board of Trustees, was an honorary chair of the largest fundraising effort in the school’s history, and also frequently attended the Christmas Eve Masses there, singing in the choir and serving as a reader. In 2016, Roberts also spoke to lower school students there about her book “Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation.”
In her commencement address to the class of 2012 at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, Roberts similarly emphasized the important role that women played in American Catholic history, noting four canonized women saints who served in the United States. She highlighted how St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a Religious of the Sacred Heart, founded the first free school west of the Mississippi River; and she noted the outreach of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a mother and widow who pioneered Catholic parochial education in the United States and also founded orphanages and hospitals. Roberts also praised the legacies of St. Francis Cabrini, known for her outreach to immigrants; and St. Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress famous for her outreach to Native Americans and African Americans who founded Xavier University in New Orleans to serve Black Catholics.
She called on Stone Ridge women of today to continue the work of the Religious of the Sacred Heart and the other women religious who have had such an impact on the nation over the years.
“There are fewer and fewer consecrated women, so now it’s up to you. It’s up to us,” Roberts said, adding, “… Because now, we have to be the agents of change, change for the good in this society. You as religious women, must give voice to the powerless, as women religious have been doing throughout our history.”
At Roberts’ Funeral Mass, the offertory gifts were brought to the altar by members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, reflecting the gift of faith that they had shared with Roberts, and that the famous journalist and author had shared in her own life and work.
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