Francis J. Parater was one of just 96 young men who became an Eagle Scout in 1915. The feat was so rare that Boys’ Life magazine published the names of all new Eagle Scouts in its pages.
Nearly a century after Parater’s death, leaders in the Catholic church want to honor Parater’s life with an even rarer honor: sainthood.
Parater died of rheumatic fever in 1920 in Rome; he was just 22. But in that short life he sought perfection as a student, Scout and seminarian. Just before he died, Parater wrote a letter to his Scout troop back home. He told them that, when their time came, he’d warmly welcome them to “the campfire of eternal life.”
In 2001, church leaders began the canonization process for Parater — formally initiating the steps toward sainthood. The process can take many years.
Born to be a Scout
Frank Parater was born Oct. 10, 1897, in Richmond, Va.
As a teenager, Parater became active in Troop 40 — part of what was then the Richmond Council and is now the Heart of Virginia Council.
He took on multiple leadership roles with the troop and built a reputation as a Scout with strong ideals and sound judgment. Parater was just as home outdoors — camping, hiking and building fires — as he was studying scripture inside a church.
He became an Eagle Scout some time in 1915. Why don’t we know the exact date? Records from 1912 to 1916 list the year only. We do know that Parater’s Eagle Scout status is confirmed in the November 1915 issue of Boys’ Life:
By the end of 1915, a mere 338 individuals had received their Eagle medal in BSA history.
In 2009, the 2 millionth Eagle Scout medal was awarded.
A friend of BL
Parater was one of BL‘s earliest fans. He wrote frequent letters to Boys’ Life, sharing snapshots and stories with the magazine’s editors.
His name was published in at least seven different issues of BL, including the February 1914 issue where he expressed his desire to become pen pals with a fellow Scout. The magazine called this mail-exchange service “Lonesome Corner.”
By October 1914, Parater had been corresponding with at least one Scout: Harry Ledin of Sweden.
But Parater didn’t just correspond with fellow Scouts. Once, he wrote to a Boys’ Life columnist known as Mr. Cave Dweller. This is from the January 1915 issue:
Studying for priesthood, staffing summer camp
In 1917, Parater was called to the priesthood and entered the Belmont Abbey Seminary College in North Carolina. He attended daily Mass and weekly confession. His personal rule for living was “the Sacred Heart never fails those that love Him.”
While studying for the priesthood, Parater remained active in Scouting. He even served as camp director one summer.
“The leaders of the Scouts saw such virtue and ideals in Frank that they wanted him to serve as a summer camp director supervising those who were his seniors,” according to a story in this Seminarian Handbook.
A move to Rome and a farewell letter
In 1919, Parater was sent to study at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
Three months after arriving, Parater contracted rheumatism that developed into rheumatic fever. He died Feb. 7, 1920.
After he died, a letter was found in his room that was addressed to his fellow Boy Scouts back in Virginia:
Dear Old Scouts:
You may never see this letter, but if you do, it is to tell you that God has granted me the greatest desire of my life — to die for love of Him and of my fellow man. Never fear death — it is the most beautiful thing in life, for it is the great portal to the real life. Ever since I was a little fellow I have wanted to be like the martyrs of old, and give my life to God.
I have loved each of you. … Now that God has called me to Himself, don’t think that I shall forget you; nor shall I leave you – but will be much nearer to you than I could ever be in this life.
And now, old Scouts, I must say ‘so long for a time.’ But occasionally think of your old friend and camp director, and when the time comes for you to hit the trail for home, I’ll promise to be near and to welcome you to the campfire of eternal life. God’s blessing be with you all.
Story idea via John Duncan