The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 23, 2001 Issue
Local News

A man who felt, and brought, God's presence

Green Bay area gives thanks, bids Godspeed to philanthropist Leo Frigo

See related editorial

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

Leo Frigo, the founder of Paul's Pantry in Green Bay, who died Feb. 13 of injuries from an automobile accident, showed us how to be disciples of the Lord.

"Leo, to me, would be a servant model, a disciple," said Green Bay Auxiliary Bp. Robert Morneau. He "walked the path of following Jesus in compassion and service to others."

Fr. Conrad Kratz, O.Praem., Frigo's pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in De Pere, said Leo "had a deep love for the Catholic faith and Catholic tradition.... While he discovered the mysteries of the faith, he discovered within him the very hand of God working.

"He truly understood humility in the sense that he acknowledged his gifts and used them for good, for something larger than himself," Fr. Kratz said.

Rosalie Murphy, nurse practitioner at Lena Clinic, grew up with the Frigo family in the Pound area where Leo - the 13th of 16 children - was born 69 years ago.

She said his love for his church began in that large Italian family. "The Frigos never gathered in little groups; it was always big groups," she said. "The whole family was close to the church" and they prayed "loud and clear" in Italian.

After high school, Leo briefly entered the Trappist community in Dubuque, then served in the U.S. Army in Korea. While studying dairy science at Iowa State University at Ames, he met and married his wife, Fran.

After college, he returned to work for Frigo Cheese, retiring in 1983 as president of the family business at age 52.

For Leo, Murphy said, faith was important for sharing. "He wanted the community to believe there was a better way, a chance of making life better."

Leo really put his faith into action in retirement. When he was shown the need for a food pantry in Green Bay, he organized volunteers from churches of all denominations and obtained space in a corner of the St. Vincent de Paul store, thus starting Paul's Pantry.

Craig Robbins, current Paul's Pantry director, said Leo ran into "so many road blocks to getting things going. He just kept praying and praying and praying.... He had more faith and trust than anyone I ever met."

Fr. Kratz said Leo "knew God had visited him. He truly felt the presence of God" which is what allowed him to take chances by climbing into dumpsters behind grocery stores to retrieve food for the poor when the pantry first started.

Fr. Jim Baraniak, O.Praem., associate pastor at Lourdes, said the way Leo and his son, Chris, would "raid" the luxury boxes at Packer games for food was "truly inspiring."

Even after the pantry got going, Leo still would say, " 'Let's leave it to our Lord. You pray about it, and we'll see what happens'," Robbins said.

When food or other items arrived or when problems were solved, Robbins said, Leo would say, "That's our Lord."

Dan Williams, St. Vincent de Paul volunteer president in Green Bay, said another of Leo's favorite expressions was "We're so blessed."

Fr. Baraniak said that, for Leo, the liturgy was the fount and summit from and to which all the church's activities flow, just as the documents of Vatican II said. "I really think it was what Leo experienced at Mass."

Leo attended the daily perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish. Also, he and Fran frequently attended the 4:45 p.m. daily Mass at St. Norbert Abbey and the last Mass Sunday mornings at Lourdes.

Robin Cribb, pastoral associate, also remembers the couple coming to Sunday Mass. "I'll miss Leo coming with his real big smiling face."

All the people interviewed described Leo as "unassuming." They said when he entered a room he never drew attention to himself. Instead, he greeted other people and left them feeling as if they were wonderful and that Jesus loved them.

"Leo was a smiling person," said Murphy. "When he came around, if anyone was glum, they didn't stay glum long."

Economic status meant nothing to Leo, Cribb said. He treated both rich and poor with respect and both groups attended his funeral Mass on Saturday.

Cribb recalled meeting two Paul's Pantry clients who arrived at the church at 7:45 a.m., well before visitation. They wanted to make sure they could find the parish.

Fr. Kratz summed up Leo this way: "He was a wonderful man who pastored the parish probably just as much as I pastored it, if not more."

Bp. Morneau said, "Leo blazed a trail. He set the bar pretty high. He challenged all of us to be as generous and as dedicated as he lived the Gospel.... He followed the Gospel in a full, dedicated, and committed way."

Green Bay Mayor Paul Jadin has declared this to be "Leo Frigo Week."

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