A saint from Richmond?

George Weigel

On All Souls’ Day last year, I accompanied several priests and students of Rome’s  Pontifical North American College to a Mass being offered at the college mausoleum in Rome’s great cemetery, Campo Verano for a memorial Mass. Exploring the memorial inscriptions after Mass, I came upon the name “Franciscus Parater.” A student asked whether I had read “Frank Parater’s Prayer” in the college Manual of Prayers. I had to confess that I hadn’t. “Don’t miss it,” my young friend said.

The “prayer” is in fact a last will and testament, written shortly before the twenty-two year old seminarian fell ill during his first year of studies in Rome.  In it, Frank Parater offered his life to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the conversion of Virginia:

“I have nothing to leave or give but my life and this I have consecrated to the Sacred Heart to be used as He wills. I have offered my all for the conversion of non-Catholics in Virginia. This is what I live for and in case of death what I die for…Since my childhood, I have wanted to die for God and my neighbor. Shall I have this grace? I do not know, but if I go on living, I live for this same purpose; every action of my life here is offered to God for the spread and success of the Catholic Church in Virginia…I shall be of more service to my diocese in Heaven than I can ever be on earth.”

That was written on December 5, 1919, and sealed in an envelope to be opened in case of Frank’s unexpected death. Frank Parater died of rheumatic fever on February 7, 1920. Some time later, a fellow-seminarian discovered the letter while sorting through Parater’s effects. Pope Benedict XV asked for a copy of Frank Parater’s testament, as did Pope Pius XI. Then the Church and the world seemed to move on, while Frank Parater worked for the Diocese of Richmond from a distance, so to speak.

It took another young Richmond native, J. Scott Duarte, to bring the story of Frank Parater back to life. Discovering this remarkable tale during his own student days in Rome, Father Duarte kept Frank Parater in mind after his ordination and during his graduate studies in canon law. Years of research and prayer were rewarded this past January, when Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond established a diocesan tribunal, under Father Duarte’s leadership, to “examine the reputation for sanctity and heroic virtues of [the] Servant of God Frank Parater, Seminarian.” After the local investigation is completed, the cause will be sent to Rome.

Amidst the current turmoil in the Catholic Church in the United States, some might wonder about the utility, even propriety, of such causes. Isn’t it more important to reform priestly formation today than to expend time, energy, and resources digging into the life of a seminarian dead for over three-quarters of a century? But perhaps the two go together.

The reform of seminary formation for the twenty-first century should have one overriding goal: to insure that American seminaries graduate men of holiness, integrity, and zeal. By every written account from the time of his death, Frank Parater was a model of holiness, integrity, and zeal. Is it too much to imagine that his intercession will be a crucial factor in the ongoing reform of priestly formation in the United States? Only if you don’t believe in the communion of saints.

More dioceses should be doing what Richmond is doing: seeking exemplars of sanctity from every way of life and lifting them up as models for Catholics today. The last time I checked, the Archdiocese of Cracow had some fifty beatification causes under investigation. Some were due to the special circumstances of World War II and the Nazi Occupation, but many others were less dramatic: a woman who organized nursing care for the indigent elderly; an auxiliary bishop who had been an effective university chaplain; an engineer who was a model husband, father, sportsman, and friend. Is any American diocese so actively lifting up local examples of sanctity?

Reform requires saints. The introduction of Frank Parater’s cause couldn’t have come at a better time.

COMING UP: Archbishop: In this time of need, join me for a Rosary Crusade

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When God chose to enter the world to save us, he chose Mary, whose deep faith provided the way for Jesus to come among us. She believed in the words of the angel, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1: 37). As she expressed her deep confidence in the promises of God, the Word became flesh. In our current time of crisis, our Church, world and our country need faith in God and the protection and intercession of Mary. And so, beginning on August 15, I am launching a Rosary Crusade to ask Mary to urgently bring our needs to Jesus.

The last several months of the coronavirus epidemic, the civil unrest that has broken out in different parts of the archdiocese and our nation, and the challenges the Church is facing have made the need for Mary’s intercession abundantly clear. Mary is our Mother and desires only our good like the Father.

In her appearance to Juan Diego, Our Lady reminded him and reminds us today, “Listen and let it penetrate your heart…do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain.  Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?”

Saint Padre Pio, who was known for his devotion to the Rosary offers us this advice: “In times of darkness, holding the Rosary is like holding our Blessed Mother’s hand.”

We turn to Mary in our difficulty because she is our spiritual mother, who with her “yes” to the Lord embraced the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power. She is “the supreme model of this faith, for she believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ and was able to magnify the Lord: ‘For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #273).

We know, too, from history that Mary has answered prayers brought to her through the Rosary and that she has personally asked people to pray it for the most serious needs, especially for the conversion of souls.

Pope Pius V famously asked all Christians to pray the Rosary in 1571 to prevent Christianity from being overrun by the invading Ottoman Turks, and the Christian naval forces were subsequently victorious in the Battle of Lepanto. In the apparitions at Fatima, Mary identified herself as “The Lady of the Rosary” and asked the shepherd children to whom she appeared to pray a daily Rosary for world peace and the end of World War I.

During his pontificate, Saint John Paul II spoke of the Rosary as his favorite prayer. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he added, “The Rosary has accompanied me in moments of joy and in moments of difficulty. To it I have entrusted any number of concerns; in it I have always found comfort” (RVM, 2).

This past May, Pope Francis encouraged praying the Rosary, saying, “Dear brothers and sisters, contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”

During this time of trial, we need to hear the words of Jesus spoken often in the Gospel, words spoken to Mary by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “Be not afraid.” We need to pray especially for a deeper trust and hear the words of Elizabeth spoken to Mary in our own hearts. “…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45). The Lord is with us in this time as he has promised! Praying the rosary helps us, with the aid of our Mother, to relive in our own lives the mysteries of Christ’s life.

I personally invite all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Denver to pray the Rosary every day between the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, August 15, through the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15. I would be remiss if I did not thank Bishop Carl Kemme of Wichita for inspiring this Rosary Crusade by launching one in his diocese at the beginning of August.

As we unite in asking Mary for her intercession and protection, please pray for the following intentions:

* For a growth in faith, hope and charity in the heart and soul of every human being, and most especially in our own that we may seek only the will of the Father

* For a recognition of the dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death and that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God

* A quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

* For all who are suffering from COVID-19, for their caregivers, and for those who have died from the virus

* In reparation for the sins of abortion, euthanasia, and racism

* In reparation for the sins and failings of our spiritual leaders and for our personal sins

* For healing and justice for all those who have been discriminated against because of their race

* For the conversion of the world and the salvation of souls

* For all those who are persecuted throughout the world for the Faith

* For the conversion of those who carry out acts of desecration against our churches, statues and religious symbols

* In reparation for these acts of desecration, especially against Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament

* For our civic leaders and those who keep us safe to experience a deeper conversion, to govern justly, and to seek the common good

* That we may learn how to love and forgive from the example of Jesus

* For all marriages and families, neighborhoods, churches and cities to be strengthened

* For an increase in vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life

Thank you for joining me in this prayer on behalf of our world, country and our Church. I am confident that many of the faithful will respond in turning to the Blessed Mother who “shine[s] on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope” (Pope Francis’ Letter to the Faithful for the Month of May 2020). May you always know the protection of Mary as she leads you to her Son!