The following is an article written by John Hickey ’65, editor of the “St. Sebastian’s Class of 1965” blog.
I definitely remember Father Sylvester during our junior year. In the fall of 1963, we heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas on November 22 in Father Collins’s senior A chemistry class about 1:00 p.m. Father Collins would not let us watch the news of the President’s shooting on the classroom television. At the end of the period, we moved to Father Sylvester’s English class at 2:00 p.m. where we watched the CBS news coverage of the events.
In addition to Father Sylvester’s teaching responsibilities, he was also the faculty moderator of The Arrow, St. Sebastian’s yearbook.
Monsignor Albert J. Contons, our French teacher during our freshman and sophomore years, wrote these recollections on May 4, 2015, about his colleague:
“Father Dave Sylvester grew up in South Boston. In his early career he worked for the FBI. No one seemed to know in what capacity. As a priest at St. Sebastian School, it was understandable why the students gave him the nickname “Father Sly.” As English teacher, he subscribed to many book clubs. He was unaware that when books arrived in his mailbox, Father Neil Harrington, a voracious speed-reader, would intercept the book, read it overnight, repackage it and put it back the next morning. We all felt that Father Sylvester could read only half the books he received, but Father Harrington read them all…Sadly, Father Sylvester contracted brain cancer and had a difficult time until he died.”
Father Sylvester’s teaching style included having his students read many books and memorizing many vocabulary words. The weekly vocabulary lists contained about twenty-five words. There was always a weekly test to see how well we remembered them. One of my personal favorites has always been ‘brouhaha.’ The vocabulary lists were targeted as preparation for the SAT tests we had to take in our junior and senior years.
“Father Sly’s” reading list of classics spanned two centuries. Joe Corkery, Tim Sullivan and I recently tried to recreate Father Sylvester’s reading list. One of our classmates, whose name will go unmentioned, made a solid contribution to the list by finding old Cliffs Notes in his basement. Here is the list we have collectively remembered to date:
Quentin Durwood by Sir Walter Raleigh (1823)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Westward Ho by Charles Kingsley (1855)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902)
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)
Cimmaron by Edna Ferber (1929)
The Late George Apley by John Philips Marquand (1937)
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
I hope some of our other classmates can recall some additional titles. I am shocked, shocked with the revelation that Cliffs Notes were used in Father Sylvester’s class.
In an email dated May 4, 2015, Steve Abbott wrote, “Father Sly would have us write essays on various subjects and have us come up and read our essays to the class standing next to him. More than once he would doze off during our recitations.” I guess our essays were not stimulating enough for him.
Father Sylvester’s book list gave us a great background in literature, and his vocabulary lists helped us to prepare for the SATs. My regret was we did not spend much more time learning how to write essays and term papers.
Frank Burke was able to retrieve an electronic copy of Father Sylvester’s obituary from the Boston Globe website:
The above recollections of Father Contons refreshed my memory about the stories of Father Sylvester’s service in the FBI. Reading his obituary, I saw there were only four years between his graduation from Boston College in 1941 when he was about twenty-five, and his ordination in 1945. It is probable, I believe, he served in the FBI prior to 1941 while he attended Boston College. Unfortunately, his photo did not appear in the 1941 B. C. yearbook.
Requiescat in pace, Pater David Sylvester.
Rev. David A. Sylvester died January 28, 1969 from brain cancer at the age of fifty-two. He taught english and religion at St. Sebastian’s from 1947 until 1968. Thank you “Father Sly” for your years of service to our School community!