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
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
"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
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
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
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
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