Remembering Brother Sylvio

1 year ago

To the editor:

It was 1951 in Nashua, New Hampshire, at St. Louis De Gonzague Catholic Church on West Hollis Street. A dozen or more granite steps led to the cross-shaped house of worship, site of baptisms, first communions, confirmations, marriages and eventual funerals of so many thousands of people like us: hardworking, legal French Canadian immigrants who sought a better life “aux Etas Unis.”

 The 9 a.m. attendance at High Mass was mandatory for all altar boys (girls weren’t then permitted as altar servers), followed by mandatory attendance at the 7 p.m. Vespers, which seemed to last for hours on end. There were some 30 of us altar boys, 8-9 years old, under the direction of Brother Sylvio, a short, bent-back smoker and a devout religious Brother of the Sacred Heart. 

At year’s end, Brother Sylvio would schedule the buses to take the altar boys in good standing to Fenway Park in Boston to a Red Sox Game. An annual highlight was another bus trip to Hampton Beach State Park for a day in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.   

Parental education in the early 50’s was usually limited to less than a high school diploma, as large families of the day mandated early financial assistance from children of early working age. The college-educated professional was rare, most probably a doctor who did house calls, a dentist who did not and an attorney who could protect us little people from les “Anglais,” or “Les Protestants.”  

Dating was out of the question until at least 18 yrs old and even then, limited to young ladies of French Canadian, Catholic heritage but never, on a Friday night.

Evening meals consisted of meat and veggies, planned for economical usage and maintaining protein and calorie intake. TVs were few. Times were tough. People struggled. 

Sitting, standing or praying with his 30 altar boys, whom he had trained for hours, was the steady Brother Sylvio. His work was a work of love, which would yield in years to come, men who remembered and maybe possessed the motivation to make him proud.

Lou Ouellette