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Fr Walter Silvester S.A.C.
13.10.1919 -- 24.3.2005
Submariner who became a fisher of men
FATHER WALTER SILVESTER
PRIEST, U-BOAT COMMANDER
By MARK BROLLY
Walter Joseph Silvester, who has died, aged 85, was a Catholic priest for almost 55 years — almost all of which were spent in and near Melbourne — but his path to ordination and to Australia was via a German U-boat and a prisoner-of-war camp.
Father Silvester arrived in Melbourne in 1951, the year after his ordination as a Pallottine priest — a religious congregation devoted to awakening in all Christians their call to spread the Gospel.
He embraced his new land with enthusiasm, and inspired young men and women to service, lifted spirits with his singing and guitar, and rallied his fellow priests to live out their vocation more fully. In turn, he was embraced for his devotion to God and people, his openness, warmth and love of life, even if some were initially bemused when he arrived on a motorcycle to say Mass.
In many ways, he foreshadowed many of the reforms enacted by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, as had the founder of the Pallottines, the 19th century Roman priest, St Vincent Pallotti. For seven years from 1958, Father Silvester served as Australian leader of the Pallottines, based at Studley Park Road, in Kew.
He was born in Breslau, in the German province of Silesia (now Wroclaw in Poland), to Alfred, a postal clerk, and Agnes Silvester. They had three other sons, all of whom died very young, and a daughter, Edith, who survives him.
He began his studies for ordination as a Pallottine three days after his 20th birthday, and only six weeks after the outbreak of war. Little more than a year later, he was conscripted, serving first with marine artillery, and then on a minesweeper before joining the U-boat fleet. By the end of 1942, he was a sub-lieutenant in the waters of the Bay of Biscay and the following year, he was made a U-boat captain.
Father Silvester recalled meeting Hitler to receive an award and found his persona to be cold, lifeless and "without spirit". Looking into Hitler’s eyes was akin to gazing into a void, he recalled. The Fuhrer later ordered the death of the young U-boat skipper and others who exposed their submarines to pick up survivors of ships they had sunk.
With the defeat of Germany, he was a prisoner of war of the Americans in the Baltic port of Kiel for about five months in 1945. Released two days after his 26th birthday, he returned to the Pallottine novitiate to continue his studies for the priesthood. Ordained in Limburg in mid-1950, he left for Australia in 1951 with Fathers John Jobst (later Bishop of Broome), Ludwig Muenz (later the world leader of the Pallottines) and John Luemmen (who concelebrated Father Silvester’s funeral Masses this week).
The Pallottines came to Australia from Germany in 1901 to take over Beagle Bay mission, north of Broome, and later extended their work among the Aboriginal people throughout Western Australia.
But the new priest was destined to work in Victoria and helped establish a lay missionary program that trained and sent many young Victorians to work among Aborigines in WA.
He had the gift of being able to speak to people’s hearts. . . to challenge and inspire them.
Father Silvester was appointed youth chaplain, with responsibility for building up lay groups. The Pallottine Younger Set emerged from this period; another was the Mariana Community in 1957, a group of single consecrated women who live out their callings in the wider world but are united by prayer and shared undertakings.
In 1975, Father Silvester moved to Millgrove, near Warburton, to establish an adult retreat centre on the slopes of Ben Cairn. He had supervised the building of a college there in the early 1960s to train priests and religious but as vocations slumped, it faced the prospect of becoming a white elephant.
Pallotti College, operated by volunteers, now hosts or provides retreats for groups as diverse as married couples and seniors, to clergy and contemplative groups. The property also includes autonomous residences catering for youth and families, those in need of respite and those seeking Indian ashram-style spirituality in a Christian environment — all under the Pallottine umbrella.
For Father Silvester, "the Mountain" was a place of refreshment and renewal, combining the natural beauty of the Upper Yarra Valley with opportunities for prayer, relaxation, fellowship and solitude. He remained there until 2000, when declining health forced him to retire to Berwick.
Even there, he continued his ministry, his home and a local coffee shop places where he could dispense counsel, encouragement and joviality.
As the Pallottines’ Australian leader, Father Ray Hevern, said this week: "He was one of those Spirit-filled individuals whose energy seemed boundless, as did his infectious optimism and simple joy in life ... He had the gift of being able to speak to people’s hearts, to evoke in them the potential that was locked up, to challenge and inspire them.
Father Silvester died of heart failure in Dandenong Hospital on Holy Thursday night — the day on which the Catholic Church commemorates the inauguration of the Eucharist and of its priesthood. He was fare welled by more than 250 people at an outdoor vigil Mass at the Pallottine house in Kew on Wednesday, and was buried at Melbourne General Cemetery on Thursday after a Requiem Mass at his beloved Millgrove attended by about 600 people.
Mark Brolly is an "Age" staff journalist and a lifelong associate of the Pallottines.
(Used with permission of Mark Brolly)
Listed April 2005
A true christian my wife states, but I cannot find out anything other than he served on U boats from another website, any one know who and what position he held, a photo would be even better!
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A pretty interesting story that awed a Christian like me! Sometimes I wondered what award did Walter Silvester got from Adolf Hitler? I know that Hitler doesn't present Iron Cross Second and First Class to servicemen personally. I also never heard of a German soldier being presented with the German Cross in Gold or Silver by Hitler. For German navyman like Silvester getting a award from Hitler personally,could probably meant the Knight's Cross or the higher grades of it. Otherwise I have no idea what award did Walter Silvester got from Hitler.
Edward L. Hsiao
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