Father Silvan Bromenshenkel, OSB
Monk, Priest, Missionary and Teacher
Alvin Nicholas, the third of nine children, was born November 20, 1915, in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, to Alex J. and Theresia (Unger) Bromenshenkel. In 1933 he graduated from high school in Sauk Centre. He then worked on the family farm and in a retail dairy business for six years.
Alvin recalls clearly his first face-to-face encounter with Abbot Alcuin Deutsch OSB, in the spring of 1939. "I had pictured abbots as being a bit mysterious and medieval. So there I was, a 24-year-old farmer from the hometown of Sinclair Lewis, asking Abbot Alcuin if Saint John's would consider accepting me as a priesthood student. My voice was a little shaky, but so was the abbot's head.
"I discovered later Abbot Alcuin's head always began to shake a little when he was either amused or annoyed. I had been in his office only about five minutes, but I felt perfectly at home. His reply: 'Well, we'll give you a try. You have a brother here who will soon begin his novitiate; but don't get the idea you're going to slide in on his credentials.'" So it was that Alvin enrolled at Saint John's University, intending to follow his younger brother, Fintan, into monastic life at the abbey. Following his sophomore year of college he entered the novitiate, and Abbot Alcuin gave him the monastic name of Silvan. He professed first monastic vows on July 11, 1942.
Silvan completed his theological studies and was ordained to the priesthood on June 15, 1947. Despite the fact that he volunteered to go to the Abbey's mission in Puerto Rico, Abbot Alcuin sent Silvan to The Bahamas where he spent forty-seven years among the people of the islands and the monks of Saint Augustine's. He served Saint Augustine's Monastery and College and the Diocese of Nassau as teacher, pastor, director of oblates, writer, administrator, editor and archivist.
He was happy to spend the whole time of his active priesthood there since he found the Bahamians he met to be "gracious, gentle, kind and hospitable people." His only time away from the Islands was used to continue his studies. He spent a semester at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., a semester in Rome and a scholastic year at Mount St. Benedict in Trinidad.
Father Silvan taught for nine years at Saint Augustine College and then became rector of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral parish. He was named Acting Chancellor of the diocese and was in office from 1956 to 1960. From 1960 to 1963 he was pastor of the Seven Mission Church at North Andros. In August 1963, Silvan was appointed prior of Saint Augustine's Monastery to succeed his beloved mentor, Prior Frederic Frey OSB.
Father Frederic had founded the school and monastic community in 1945. Father Silvan soon enlisted the help of his confrere, Father Burton Bloms OSB, to become headmaster of the school. Father Burton expanded the school with new buildings, and a thousand students flourished under the educational and pastoral leadership of both priests.
When Saint Augustine's Monastery became an independent priory in 1967, Father Silvan returned to pastoral work in parishes in Nassau and the Family Islands. His mission work was diverse and far-flung: pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Nassau from 1967 to 1969; pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Grand Bahamas from 1969 to 1970; assistant pastor of St. Joseph's Parish 1970 to 1972; pastor of St. Cecilia Parish from 1972 to 1975; pastor of Resurrection Church 1975 to 1976; pastor of Holy Family Church 1976 to 1980; and pastor of Our Lady's parish 1980 to 1984.
Silvan returned to St. Augustine's to teach religion classes from 1985 to 1987, and was pastor of San Salvador Missions, from 1988 to 1989. From 1990 to 1995 he was responsible for the upkeep of the monastery as well weekend pastoral work. When Bishop Burke acquired an airplane for the diocese, Father Silvan accompanied a small group each Saturday when Brother Barry Gearman OSB piloted the priests, deacons, and sisters to the various islands for Sunday services.
Among his many duties and contributions, Father Silvan was the founding and faithful editor of Bahama Benedictine, a periodic newsletter that was sent to friends and benefactors of the monastery. He also served the community as archivist and director of oblates.
After a full life of pastoral work for the people of The Bahamas, Father Silvan returned to Saint John's Abbey in 1995. His zeal and love for the people he served was much appreciated and celebrated. Father Silvan said he loved the people so much he never even thought of asking for a different assignment throughout the forty-seven years of his missionary career.
After declining health Father Silvan died peacefully at Collegeville on Friday, July 8, 2005. He is survived by his brothers and sister: Father Fintan OSB of Collegeville, Mr. Vern Bromen of Sauk Centre and Mrs. Teresa (Patty) Knier of Clear Lake.
The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Silvan at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, 2005, in Saint John's Abbey Church with interment in the abbey cemetery.
We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother Silvan to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB and the monks of Saint John's Abbey.