Robert Novak “took his faith seriously,” said Reverend Monsignor Peter Vaghi, the priest who baptized the veteran political columnist as a Catholic in 1998 and who spoke at his funeral Friday morning.
Novak’s religious side was much in evidence at the funeral held at St. Patrick’s in the City, a cavernous, ornate Catholic church in downtown Washington. There, amid stained glass windows, religious statues, and a priest swinging incense, some 500 friends and family members said goodbye to the outspoken conservative columnist and broadcaster. Novak's career at the center of politics in the nation’s capital spanned half a century.
No political talking heads
While famous politicians and well-known journalists filled St. Patrick’s for the farewell, they were not asked to speak. Unlike some Washington funerals where family or friends offer reminiscences, at Novak’s service the only memories shared with the congregation came from two priests.
Reverend Monsignor Salvatore Criscuolo, who delivered the homily, said Novak “told me in no uncertain terms, which he was famous for doing,” what the service should contain. The hour-long Mass was dominated by hymns, prayers, scriptural readings, and the taking of Communion.
The gathering had a decidedly bi-partisan cast. In one pew near the rear of the church on the right side sat Karl Rove, senior advisor to President George W. Bush. Grover Norquist, who heads the Americans for Tax Reform, sat a few rows in front of Rove.
Democrats in attendance included Bob Shrum, a senior advisor to John Kerry’s presidential campaign and a long-time speechwriter for Senator Edward Kennedy. He sat near the center aisle on the left. Also on hand from the Democratic elite was Donna Brazile, campaign manager for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 2000.
And, of course, there was a large contingent from the world of political journalism including several who had been panelists along with Novak on CNN’s log-running “Capital Gang” broadcast. That list included Al Hunt of Bloomberg News, columnist Mark Shields, MSNBC contributor Patrick Buchanan, and Kate O’Beirne of the National Review.
Belated White House comment
When White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at Friday’s briefing why the White House did not put out a statement on Novak’s death, he gave this response. “Mr. Novak was somebody who wrote for one of the local Chicago papers, and I think no matter how you felt personally about his political leanings, I think the President would agree with many that have said they had respect for his reporting and for his ability and his opinions, even if they didn't agree with him. And I think that's probably a good lesson for all of us, either in August for town hall meetings, or as we move forward on issues like healthcare or anything else.”