Vai's View: Frederick Pratt, a gracious Catholic relative of Parley P. Pratt, Mitt Romney

Published: Friday, March 16 2012 12:27 p.m. MDT

Recently, my 18 year-old daughter, Lana, invited me to speak at a forum at her high school. Lana is a senior and is the only Latter-day Saint at Merion Mercy Academy in Philadelphia—an all-girls Catholic school with an enrollment of roughly 500 girls.

Following my speech, I asked Lana to take me by the classroom of Mr. Frederick Pratt, one of the school's most popular teachers, because I wanted to meet him. Frederick Pratt is on the religion faculty and was one of Lana's favorite teachers.

Mr. Pratt teaches five religion courses at Merion Mercy Academy: morality, social justice, life choices, church history and sacraments. Lana had him for sacraments and church history and she absolutely loved Mr. Pratt and his classes—so much so that she gave him a Book of Mormon, which she signed with her testimony. He was so appreciative of the gesture, though he confided in us that it's one of a dozen he's been given over the years by Mormon missionaries. He invited Lana to come into his sacraments class in a few weeks to discuss her Mormon faith, including media misconceptions and falsehoods about Mormons.

I had thanked him via email for that opportunity for Lana to discuss her faith with her peers in his religion class. I was impressed with his email response a few days later:

"As a fascinated admirer of the Mormon tradition, I am often upset by the misconception about the mainstream LDS church by most Americans - I am sure it makes for 'good television' but so much is fiction parading as fact - my invitation to Lana to speak about her faith is a small contribution to put an end to prejudicial words and maybe a life lesson that my students can take with them about differences between people and the need for not just tolerance, but respect, honor and acceptance. The wealth of this country is exponentially more in our diversity than even our GDP."

Enlightened? Yeah, I'd say so. But there's more to Mr. Frederic Pratt than meets the eye. Much more.

In January, following the Florida GOP debate, Mr. Pratt stopped Lana in the hallway and asked if she had watched the debate the previous evening.

"We did, Mr. Pratt," she said, "my parents had friends over and we all watched."

Then Pratt casually mentioned, "Did you know I'm related to Mitt Romney?"

"Wow! Really?"

"I'm actually related to Romney and Jon Huntsman," he said. "We all share a common ancestor."

Lana was intrigued, never mind she was running late for class. "Is it someone I would know?" she asked.

That's when Frederick Pratt dropped the bomb. "You ever heard of Parley Parker Pratt?"

It took Lana a moment to realize that the "P." must be for Parker. "You're related to Parley P. Pratt?!"

Frederick Pratt smiled. "And his brother Orson."

When Lana recounted for me her encounter with Mr. Pratt, I knew I had to meet him and take him one of my favorite books from our home library: "Life and Travels of Parley P. Pratt," Pratt's autobiography. I presented it to Mr. Pratt, wrote a few things inside the cover, signed and dated it, as the school photographer snapped a photo of us holding the book.

Frederick Pratt grew up in a devout Catholic family in New Jersey, aspiring to be in the ministry. However, after college, he took a job at MIT and moved to Cambridge, Mass to work in a program that promoted invention, science, engineering and entrepreneurship among young people. After two years at MIT, he pursued a job as an admissions counselor/recruiter at the Sloan School of Business MBA program at MIT. He was a finalist for the job but ultimately didn't get it, so he decided to pursue his childhood dream of entering the priesthood.

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