Written by Natalie Elbert, Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (AP) – Even after 15-year-old Brian Laviollette died in a swimming accident in the summer of 1992, the hours he’s collected over the years have kept track of that time.
Twenty-nine years later, a Swatch wristwatch arrives in Green Bay from Vatican City – its former owner Pope Francis – all in Brian’s name.
Bishop David Riken of Green Bay wrote in a letter to Pope Francis: “On the day of Brian’s funeral, great things were pledged to be accomplished in his name and memory.”
The journey from Green Bay to Vatican City relied on a series of connections that brought these disparate worlds together.
The story took over an hour-long advertisement at Nicolette National Bank in downtown Green Bay, as organizers announced members and friends associated with the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation for the “Once Upon a Time Collection,” the upcoming online auction and how to donate the watches to the cause.
Pope Francis’ wristwatch will be front and center in the online auction on February 22, along with watches worn over the past few decades by the likes of Priscilla Presley and Jerry Lewis.
All proceeds will go to the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1992 that awards 56 scholarships annually to college-going students ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Doug Laviollette, Brian’s father and president of the Brian Laviollette Scholarship Foundation, cherishes Timex watches. When his grandson, Walker, was born, he wanted to give the child a wristwatch, an inherited item that he and his wife, Renee, might pass on to their only grandson.
When he had this gift idea, his memory flashed of his late son’s fascination with watches, which began when Doug gifted him his first watch – the Green Bay Packers watch.
Doug remembered the dresser drawer in Brian’s bedroom where he kept his watch collection. He hasn’t looked at this watch drawer in 28 years. But they were there, literally frozen in time. It wasn’t something the battery couldn’t fix.
“I have worn one of Brian’s watches every day since February 2020,” Doug said.
During the event at Nicolette National Bank, one of Brian’s watches can be seen on Doug’s right wrist as he unveils the watch that Pope Francis was wearing.
Not only was Doug’s consideration of the family’s legacy an integral part of his infant grandson, it was integral to the continuity of the Brian LaViolette Foundation.
Doug sees that the gift of the hour can only increase the foundation’s efforts as he thinks about the number of people, including superstars at home and abroad, who have been ringing in drawers around the world.
Immediately think of Pope Francis.
“Pope Francis is not only known for his spiritual work, but also wears an inexpensive watch that fits his personality,” Doug told the Green Bay Press-Gazette before the event. “From the very first day of the clock project, I always felt that if we could reach out to Pope Francis and ask him for his wristwatch, it would literally be the Holy Grail.”
After he pitched the idea of the watch to his daughter, Kim LaViolette Mosteller, CEO of the Brian LaViolette Foundation, they arranged a Zoom call with Austin Rios, Brian’s childhood best friend.
Rios is now an Episcopal priest living in Rome, Italy.
He was the last person to see Brian alive and, after losing his best friend, became one of the first recipients of the Foundation’s scholarship awards.
Via Zoom, Doug and Kim pitched the idea to Rios, who turned off his camera during the conversation. Silence followed as they stared at an empty icon. Doug later remembers this pose with a laugh: “I thought, ‘Oh my God, we offended the priest.'” “
Rios said, after a moment, that he was inside.
“When I originally got the call from Doug and Kim, my initial reaction was like, Really?” More than Zoom said Rios at Tuesday’s event. “But I am a loyal person and someone who believes that if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. I was very interested in the idea.”
Rios had been living in Rome for a decade now and had met Pope Francis several times. He also had connections with the religious priests and bishops of Rome and the Vatican.
“I remember when Austin was this little boy who used to hang out with Brian,” Doug said. “And here is this priest in Rome talking about the bishops in the Vatican. These relationships are very deep. It is all about starting a conversation.”
One conversation led to another. The group at the Vatican conducted research on the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation and held a private hearing on the topic, according to Rios. They returned to Reus to deliver the message that such a request, in fact, was increasingly reasonable.
“They checked the purity of what the institution means,” Doug said. “We just had to follow the proper channels. Proper guidelines require the recommendation of a local bishop in Green Bay.”
When he called Bishop David Ricken, of the Diocese of Green Bay, Mike Callauerts, a friend of the Laviollette family, offered Ricken what had become a familiar interlude to amazement. After a pause, Ricken told Calawerts, “I don’t think this has ever happened before.”
He was thinking about it and praying.
On May 28, Ricken addressed a letter to the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. After explaining the foundation’s background, Ricken delivered the request that inspired the complete silence of every uninitiated listener.
“Your Holiness, on behalf of the family, I humbly ask if you might consider offering an inexpensive watch that you have worn before, and which you might feel inclined to give up for that specific cause,” Riken wrote in the letter. “Your watch could be the most important addition to the collection of watches offered at auction.”
When Reverend Fabio Salerno, Pope Francis’ personal secretary, wrote a letter to Ricken on June 30, he attached a watch that Pope Francis was wearing with a brief but powerful message:
“Pope Francis affirms that Brian’s spirit is commemorated in his prayer and conveys to you, the LaViolette family and members of the institution, his apostolic blessing, as a gift of peace in the Lord.”
Reverend Fabio Salerno, Personal Secretary to Pope Francis, encloses a letter on behalf of Pope Francis, with one of Pope Francis’ clocks, to Bishop David Riken of the Diocese of Green Bay.
When Bishop Ricken broke the news, all Doug could do was cry.
“I think our world is starving for meaningful relationships right now. That’s what ultimately led to the success of this project,” said Rios.
The Pope Francis watch will remain CET – the time zone in Vatican City – until auction day.
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