I would arrive at the Office of Campus Ministry around 4 p.m. every Thursday, barring finals week. Despite the formal title, the office is actually a beautiful Victorian home right at the edge of the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic. The house is Gothic revival in style, but with a welcoming color palate of earth tones and an inviting wrap-around veranda. College students, including one of my best buddies, could rent apartments on the top two floors of the lovely house. The first floor is home to the director of campus ministry, a wonderful library of religious and secular classics, a kitchen and dining and sitting areas.
Every Thursday, I would ring the doorbell, be shown into the home by Very Rev. Laurence LaPointe, also known as Father Larry, or one of the house’s tenants and would eagerly get to work. First, the giant plywood painting of Snoopy would be secured to the veranda, signaling that a feast would soon begin. Then the bread was brought in, sliced and buttered, with garlic copiously applied before it went into the oven. Next the pasta was dumped into the enormous pot of boiling water and we would cut up the peppers and cukes for the salad. Finally, we made the Kool-Aid, nearly crunchy with sugary mix, just how college students like it.
More important than the work, Father Larry and I, and sometimes others, talked. We talked about the tunes on the oldies station playing from the ancient radio – the size of a suitcase – on top of the refrigerator. We talked about life in college, what we were learning and what we might want to do with our lives. We talked about books we were reading and events in the news. No matter what we talked about, the conversation always seemed so easy and Father Larry was always genuinely interested and engaged. We talked about life; about how things were and how things should be.
Then the crowd would arrive in time for grace and the weekly pasta dinner. Some (if not many) of the same faces would be seen again on Sunday night in the library for Mass. Father Larry’s sermons were always educational, informative and wholly relevant to the group of college students he preached to. My first adult foray into examining biblical passages in a critical way, considering historical context, textual nuance and genre, were sparked by Father Larry’s homilies. My parents noted my renewed religious interest after a few years of my friendship with Father Larry.
For me, Father Larry, who is the Catholic campus chaplain at Eastern, embodies the greatest form of evangelization: the simple and unassuming way that he lives his faith and brings others into God’s light without proselytizing.
Pope St. John Paul II said, “All who believe in Christ should feel, as an integral part of their faith, an apostolic concern to pass on to others its light and joy. This concern must become, as it were, a hunger and thirst to make the Lord known, given the vastness of the non-Christian world.” In some respects, a college campus can be a microcosm of a non-Christian world for many. In that world, there are those like Father Larry who figuratively (and sometimes literally) satisfy a hunger and a thirst in searching college students.
My college experience prepared me for the study of law; a career practicing criminal and civil litigation; to be a well-rounded, liberal-minded thinker (at least I like to believe); and, above all, to keep and live the faith. The most remarkable part is that Father Larry passed on the light and joy of Christ by his welcoming and tender presence, his thoughtful conversation, his deep sense of knowing and compassion. Father Larry is the kind of person who makes you feel like a better kind of person, too. Father Larry’s invitation to the warmth and light of Christ was his weekly reminder at Mass that on Thursday night at the campus ministry building, the best garlic bread west of Rome would be served. It was and it is.
The pasta dinners and intimate Masses at Eastern had been taking place under Father Larry’s direction for decades before I was a student, and undoubtedly have continued in the years since. While I miss both, there is no going back. The end of one chapter is the beginning of another. Nevertheless, I have asked Father Larry to take the show on the road, officiating at my marriage and baptizing my firstborn. Who was a similar evangelizing figure in your life? Who might someday say that you were a Father Larry to them?
Cody Guarnieri is a criminal defense lawyer with a Hartford law firm and is a member of St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford.