Spirit, strength felt in ‘shared’ Invite experience - Saint John's Seminary
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Spirit, strength felt in ‘shared’ Invite experience

January 8, 2024


Saint John’s Seminary

Gavin Larnard and his brothers have long valued the “shared experience.”

So as he kicked back with fratres Trevor, Chris, and Seamus Larnard on the family couch late Saturday night, they collectively reflected on the 12-hour journey they’d shared at the second annual Saint John’s Seminary Hoops Invite: the grueling five games they’d endured (and won), the teeth they’d chipped and lost (Trevor and Seamus’, respectively), the encounters with friends new and old, the moments of excitement, the moments of stillness and silence, and the moments that put everything in perspective.

“We sat on the couch for two hours,” Gavin recalled. “We were laughing, then we’d be serious. I mean, the amount of crazy things that happened, the amount of shared experiences … it was incredible.”

If Saturday’s SJS Invite (Vol. II) proved anything, it was exactly the event’s mission: It’s much more than just basketball. So while St. Mary of the Nativity (Scituate, Mass.) — with its slim yet speedy five-man roster that featured four Larnard brothers and their blond-haired buddy Ned DeGraan — did indeed take home the gold with a gust of grit and barrage of 3-point bombs, and St. Brigid’s (Southie, Mass.) Connor Martin did secure top honors in the 3-point contest with a similar swell of dial-ins from deep, the day’s tone resonated most touchingly with a shared spiritual experience both sobering and sacred.

Just minutes into the day’s first round of games — after Mass at SJS and an opening blessing at Boston College’s Margot Connell Recreation Center — one Invite player experienced a medical emergency, which called two nurses and an athletic trainer to spring into action, a recently ordained priest to kneel beside the young man, and a concerned gym of some 200 fellow competitors and spectators to gather nearby, many falling to their knees in prayer. And after the tense scene settled some, all in attendance convened at midcourt to recite the Memorare and pray a Hail Mary together.

“Everyone turned to God in that moment,” Larnard said. “It was such a great representation of what the Catholic community is all about. We might be hit in the face with fear, but we know Who to turn to: It’s Jesus.”

While the scare certainly left extra weight on all’s hearts and minds, it simultaneously sounded an undeniable reality: “The power of prayer,” Martin said. “Honestly, it gives me chills just thinking about it.”

For Martin — a BC alum who sneaked past Immaculate Heart of Mary sharpshooter Brother Patrick Joseph by one made basket in the 3-point contest finals — no trophy topped the hour of silence and Eucharistic adoration inside the seminary’s main chapel during the afternoon Holy Hour.

Martin’s pinnacle: “Embracing the silent prayer and sitting in such a beautiful chapel that, to be honest, I didn’t know existed,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a sacred place to have spent even a couple hours.”

With the interweaving of worship and on-court competition, the event and its participants made manifest a truth Deacon Marcelo Ferrari emphasized in his homily:

“As men, we don’t just desire what is ‘good,’” he said from the ambo. “We desire what is best.”

Seminarians Deacon Marcelo Ferrari and Joseph Jasinski
Photo Credit: Olivia Witkowski

And with a collection of “bests” scattered throughout the day, the Invite’s signature post-dinner push revealed even more. After compiling a 3-0 record in the toughest group of the day, Saint Francis of Assisi (Braintree, Mass.) muscled past St. Brigid’s in the third-place game to claim bronze in a showdown between two Invite newcomers. Martin then mastered the long-range contest, turning the gym’s buzz back up before Nativity and Gate of Heaven (Southie, Mass.) exchanged hardwood haymakers for 40 minutes straight.

For Nativity, the focus all day remained simple and steady: “Be gritty,” said Gavin Larnard, who credited Trevor with setting the tone early in that regard. “We wanted to outwork and outrun teams and, above all, we said, ‘We’re going to be great.’”

And if he ever felt himself slackin’, well … that’s when fraternal re-ignition kicks in.

“Seeing my brothers battling, that inspired me,” Gavin said. “When you see your brother lose his tooth diving for a loose ball, you think to yourself, ‘I better box out!’”

And sure, sometimes competition brings about some heat (“That was being gritty but not being great, because I let my emotions get the best of me,” Gavin admitted about a technical foul he picked up in the championship), but at day’s end, the perspective and subsequent joy in simply playing permeated, summed up succinctly, profoundly by Gatey’s Sam Golden.

“I felt like a kid,” said the 6-foot-6 hooper who moonlights as a high-school science teacher at Christo Rey in Dorchester. “Prayer, food, basketball … you can’t beat it.”

And scattered throughout the day came a smattering of other graces as well: Saint Mary of the Assumption (Dedham, Mass.) raised the bar with its royal blue “St. Joseph: Terror of Demons” jerseys (studded with a signature white lily on the front); beloved Saint Brendan’s (East Providence, R.I.) blended consistency (earning “Best Fans” for the second year running, as many from the team stuck it out till the day’s concluding rendition of Salve Regina) with progress (registering a 2-1 record after going winless last January); and the contigent of Clerics — featuring three SJS alums (Frs. Peter Schirripa, Paul Born, and Nate Sanders), one SJS faculty (Fr. Michael Zimmerman) and one pastor (Fr. Brian Morriss of Christ the King in West Warrick, R.I.) — snuck past last year’s third-place finishers to nab a win in their debut.

Photo credit: Olivia Witkowski

A second Invite in the books. And as emphasized by an hours-long couch conclave, it was the day’s collective spirit that proved most worthy of reflection.

“The major thing for (Saturday) was just community, bringing people together,” Gavin Larnard said. “As brothers, we always love to have shared experiences to draw back on. And yesterday, between what happened in the early morning and everything that happened afterward … you go through it together, the highs and the lows, and you’re stronger for it.”