Family, friends and community members paid tribute Friday to the life of Pete Frates, who used his ALS diagnosis to raise millions of dollars for supporting ALS research and patient care.
About 1,500 people packed the pews, aisles and overflow room of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish, according to an estimate from Boston College police. The church is next to Boston College, where Frates played baseball as a student.
Frates, 34, died on December 9 at his home in Massachusetts after a “heroic battle with ALS,” his family said in a statement.
After being diagnosed with ALS in 2012, Frates dedicated his life to raising awareness for the disease. He became widely known for popularizing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a viral video sensation that raised more than $115 million for ALS research.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the star baseball player was diagnosed in 1939.
The disease does not have a cure or an effective treatment to halt or reverse its progression. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within three to five years of displaying symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.
A moving tribute from his alma mater
The funeral service included a traditional Catholic mass, which Frates attended often throughout his life.
Frates planned the details of the service before his death, so the songs and readings were ones he had chosen himself, his father said during the service.
As the funeral procession made its way to the church, it passed Frates’ high school alma mater, St. John’s Prep, a Catholic boy’s school.
The boys of St. John’s Prep lined the street as the procession passed and held hands, creating a chain of students along the road.
Many of them wore buttons bearing a bold No. 3, Frates’ jersey number when he played football, hockey and baseball at the school. He graduated from St. John’s in 2003 and kept the number when he went on to play baseball at Boston College.
Both St. John’s and Boston College baseball retired Frates’ number.
An outpouring of love for his wife and daughter
Pete and his wife Julie were married in 2013, and their daughter Lucy was born the following year. Julie did not speak at the funeral, but Pete’s father, John Frates, addressed the mourners.
John Frates said at the forefront of his memories of his son was how much he loved his family.
“Julie and Lucy, they are truly Pete’s loves,” John Frates said. “Julie you made him so completely happy. You loved each other unconditionally under the most difficult circumstances.”
He continued addressing Julie, telling her how much she was able to do for her husband.
“Julie, you gave him the gift, the miracle of Lucy, but you also completed him by giving him that white picket fence that he so often talked about that could possibly be snatched away from him.”
He asked the crowd to continue supporting the family after Pete’s death.
“Stay with the family,” he said. “Stay with our mission to strike out ALS. It’s so vitally important to us.”
Then, he made a request specifically for Julie and Lucy.
“The second thing I want to ask is that you love and support unconditionally Julie and Lucy.”
Remembering Pete’s incredible life
Michael Gambino, Pete’s former coach at Boston College, read a passage from the Old Testament book of Wisdom.
“The virtuous ones, though they die before their time, will find rest,” he read.
Pete’s father shared many accounts of Pete’s virtues, recalling how even as a young boy, children flocked to him.
“We knew early on that Pete was a gift to be shared,” he said.
As he grew older, his father said, Pete would leave the house on snowy days to help others tackle the snow on their driveways and walkways.
One day, John Frates said Pete was gone for longer than usual, and came home to tell his dad he had gotten caught up in all the people who needed his help. Though many people offered him money, John said Pete never took it.
“He said it was the smile. It was the look of appreciation on their faces,” his father said. “So, the currency that Pete worked in was just what we were talking about tonight. It was helping others.”
“Pete, for those of us who really knew him, had a healthy ego,” John said, making the crowd laugh. “It was very positive. He was so confident in his abilities. And that’s why he accomplished all he did.”
John Frates asked the attendees to grieve but to also fully celebrate his son’s life.
“We’re going to grieve for just a very brief period longer, and then we’re going to celebrate his life forever,” he told them.
John ended his eulogy by asking the mourners to join him in saying a phrase Pete would often say.
“Be passionate. Be genuine. Be hardworking. And don’t ever be afraid to be great.”