Pallbearers, from left, Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Sam Shriver, Maria Shriver, Robert Kennedy Shriver, Tim Shriver Jr., Mark Kennedy Shriver and Tim Kennedy Shriver carry the casket of Eunice Kennedy Shriver outside Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in Hyannis, Mass., on Friday. ((Adam Hunger/Reuters))

Family, friends and celebrities gathered to honour Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who changed the world's perception of the mentally disabled, at her private funeral Friday in Hyannis, Mass.

Co-founder of the Special Olympics, she died Tuesday at age 88 after a series of strokes.

"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," Loretta Claiborne, a former Special Olympics athlete and long-time friend, said in her eulogy.

Kennedy Shriver's grandchildren each offered prayers, thanking her for teaching them to sail, for insisting girls are equal to boys and for inspiring them to help those in need.

The mourners included Kennedy Shriver's daughter, Maria Shriver; son-in-law, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; and husband, R. Sargent Shriver, a 1972 U.S. vice-presidential candidate. 

A member of the Kennedy political dynasty, Kennedy Shriver was sister to former U.S. president John F. Kennedy and former U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy, both of whom were assassinated. Her only living brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer, did not attend the funeral.

Family members carried the casket into Saint Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church after a funeral procession moved slowly past thousands of people who lined the streets outside. Maria Shriver and Schwarzenegger were married in the same church 23 years earlier.

The funeral mass was telecast live. Among the invited guest were Oprah Winfrey, Jon Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

With files from The Associated Press