By Joe Jasinski
Seminarian, Saint John’s Seminary
Nestled in the attic of the Saint Mary’s of the Annunciation parish rectory in Cambridge, a collection of old Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball league trophies collect dust.
That’s where Deacon Peter Schirripa found ’em, anyway. And that’s what planted the idea.
“It just made me think how special it used to be when parishes competed against each other and how sports brought Catholic men together,” Schirripa said. “I just remember thinking, ‘Why can’t we recreate this?’”
In a sense, that marked the inception of the idea for the Saint John’s Seminary Invitational, an eight-team hoops tournament set to kick off Saturday at Boston College’s Margot Connell Recreation Center after Morning Prayer and Mass across Commonwealth Avenue at Saint John’s Seminary.
“I’m so excited for what is going to be a day to remember — a day to remind us all of what is possible for our parishes,” Schirripa said. “Many people have worked so hard to make this day possible. I can’t wait to see it all unfold on Saturday.”
Sufficient buzz swarmed around the concept of the tournament itself — a “first” in the history of the seminary, which opened in 1884. But dissecting the deep tourney field has turned up the dial even more as January 7 approaches. Here’s a quick look at the eight squads set on bringing home the spoils:
OUR LADY OF THE ANGELS — Considered by many as an Invite frontrunner, the Hanover parish blends interior strength with precision shooting, making it a nightmare to defend. Always just a phone call away, they’ve administered countless beatings to the SJS team over the past several years.
RESURRECTION — While Rez’s management worked frantically in December to fill out its starting five, one thing’s certain: Father Matt Norwood should provide a pregame speech that’ll have ’em ready to go. That could spell bad news for SJS, Rez’s first opponent.
HOLY NAME — Head coach Fr. Denis Nakkeeran expressed his team’s frustration with the tourney’s all-day nature, which should trouble the whole field: The only thing scarier than a West Roxbury team is an angry West Roxbury team. Could this chip on their shoulders help Holy Name secure the hallowed hardware?
SAINT BRENDAN’S — Coined by many as the “Youngbloods of Providence,” Saint Brendan’s sports the invite’s youngest roster. And with youth comes unpredictability: Will St. B’s stumble out of the gate or play with reckless abandon, scorch the nets and send senior lineups begging for a water break?
IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY — If Bob Knight could coach an Invite team, he’d choose IHM. A program founded on discipline and toughness, the Still River bunch built their own basketball gym and wouldn’t complain about constructing a trophy case either after Saturday.
SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE — Something’s brewing in Millis. Within an influx of 20-somethings at the parish have come a handful of hoopers who get to the cup like they get to Eucharistic Adoration: early and often. Fail to stop ’em early and this crew could be off and running to a title.
NORTH AMERICAN MARTYRS — Anchored by four brothers, the Martyrs count on chemistry to keep them clickin’. As one of the Diocese of Worcester’s representatives, there’s added incentive to show Boston what the Woo’s all about … starting on the low block.
SAINT JOHN’S SEMINARY — Since installing a new offense last spring, the Eagles’ offensive output has become more of a shared surge. If SJS hopes to play spoiler and win its own invite, though, they’ve got to collaborate with defensive cleanup as well.
Saturday morning, the ball is tipped. But after that, with minimal preseason work or substantial scouting, much on the basketball side remains a mystery. All things considered, though — envisioning the beautiful blend of liturgy, competition, and fraternity — the day’s trajectory appears sky-high.
“When all is said and done, I hope those that play on Saturday will leave the event aware that as young men, they play a pivotal role in helping reignite Catholic culture on the hardwood and beyond,” Schirripa said. “And I hope that the trophies won on this day will be displayed prominently in our parishes for years to come.”