Our Holy Father Sylvester

St_sylThe Sylvestrine Congregation, O.S.B. claims two founders:  St. Benedict, the inspiration of all of Western Monachism, and St. Sylvester Guzzolini, who established the Congregation.

St. Sylvester was born around 1177 in the town of Osimo, located in the Italian March region.  This is just to the east of the Umbrian region which gave birth to Sylvester’s famous contemporary, St. Francis of Assisi.  Sylvester’s father was a lawyer and Sylvester received a university education in both law and theology at Bologna and Padua.  Despite his father’s plans that he follow a career in law, Sylvester desired to serve God in the Church and thus joins a group of Canons in their life of prayer and preaching at the Osimo Cathedral.

Relatively late in life, at the age of fifty, Sylvester underwent a “second” conversion.  Although a successful Canon and admired for the goodness of his life and ministry, Sylvester resigned his post in order to enter into deeper communion with God.  He headed into the mountainous region between Rome and Alcona and eventually settled into a hermitage called “Grottafucile”.  In time St. Sylvester began to receive visitors who sought his guidance, some of whom wished to remain with him and share his way of life.  Prompted by a vision of St. Benedict, Sylvester embraced the Benedictine rule and habit.  He moved from Grottafucile to a mountain overlooking the town of Fabriano (also in the Marches).  It is there that St. Sylvester received the gift of the land on which he assembled his first monastic community: the Hermitage of St. Benedict of Montefano.  The accounts of the life of that first community speak of the saintly leadership of its founder, the virtue of the monks and the close filial ties between them.

In June of 1248, St. Sylvester received approval of his congregation, founded “according to God and the rule of Blessed Benedict”.  From that time forward, Sylvester formed numerous other monasteries in the region, bringing the total number to twelve.  These communities were in solitary places, relatively small and always simple and poor, for Sylvester wanted to guard against the excesses found in some of the major landed monasteries of the day.  The monasteries were established within a 200 mile radius, all of them under the direction and inspiration of the Founder.  The life of  these early Sylvestrine monasteries already teemed with a variety and a balance between work – including apostolic ministry – and prayer, based upon the gifts of the individual monks and the needs of the local Church.  The great spiritual value of the early Sylvestrine life is evident from the presence of many saintly personalities among the founder’s disciples, among them St. John of the Staff and Bl. Simon, whose biographies will appear in future editions of these pages.

In the final analysis, the holiness of this community of monks was a reflection of the sanctity of the Man of God, Sylvester.  His spiritual life was punctuated by a constant devotion to the passion of Christ, a special relationship to Mary, the Mother of God, and heartfelt tears that flowed, as a gift from God, when the saint was at prayer.  There were also miraculous cures and exorcisms which testify to the presence of God which dwelled in the heart of Sylvester.  Of equal importance to all these blessings was his true spiritual fatherhood, his ability to attract and to form his disciples according to God’s own ways.

After a long life in the service of Christ and his Church, Sylvester died at the age of 90.  He left a small flock which continued to survive and even to prosper over the centuries.  Missionary monks in the 19th century carried his name to the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and by the 20th century Sylvestrine monasteries were established in the United Sates, India and Australia, a testimony to the continued vitality of Sylvester’s congregation and hope for the future.  

SOURCES:
The Benedictines, Terrence Kardong, O.S.B. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1988), pp 30-69.
Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1980)
The Medal or Cross of St. Benedict, Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B. (Albany, New York: Preserving Christian
TOP