Obituary: Father Joseph Slyva, former pastor in Natick

Father Joseph Slyva who had served most recently as pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Natick died at Cape Cod Hospital in Barnstable on Feb. 20. He was 64.

He was born in Boston on Sept. 23, 1944 a son of the late Joseph and Eleanor (Corcoran) Slyva. His late father was for many years the principal of Weeks Junior High School in Newton as well as a professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

He was raised in Needham and attended local public schools graduating from Needham High School. His family was devout in Catholic practice -- treasuring the faith brought by his ancestors from Bratislava, in present day Slovakia. The family’s name was Slizwa and was later Anglicized to Slyva.

Following high school he attended Bridgewater State College and obtained a B.S. degree in psychology. He once credited his own family, the priest in his home parish and the campus ministers at Bridgewater for his hearing the call to the priesthood.

Following theological studies at St. John’s Seminary, Brighton, he was ordained by Archbishop Humberto Medeiros at Holy Cross Cathedral on May 20, 1972.

Between 1972 and 2000, Father Slyva served either as associate pastor or parochial vicar in the following archdiocesan parishes: Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Melrose (1972-1973); St. Zepherin, Wayland (1973-1977); St. Thecla, Pembroke (1977-1982); St. Bonaventure, Plymouth (1983-1985); St. John the Evangelist, East Bridgewater (1985-1988); Holy Family, Rockland (1988-1990); St. Peter, Plymouth (1990-1993); St. Joseph the Worker, Hanson (1993-1995); St. Bernadette, Randolph (1995-1997); and St. Denis, Westwood (1997-2000).

He noted in a Pilot interview that he very much enjoyed St. Denis because of the two pastors with whom he served there: the late Father Frederick Murray and Father Edwin Condon, currently vicar for clergy support of the archdiocese.

On Oct. 14, 2000 Cardinal Bernard Law named him pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Natick. When he was going to Natick he expressed the desire that he would “bring comfort to those who need it and light to those who lack it.” Just over four years later his term as pastor ended when the parish was suppressed as part of the reconfiguration of the archdiocese. The time was difficult for the parishioners and for Father Slyva. It seems however that he was able to help his parishioners see the light through what was surely darkness for them.

He served for some time on the Emergency Response Team of the archdiocese assisting at parishes and covering for absent and vacationing priests. In 2006 he experienced deteriorating health and so was granted permanent disability status. He still was able to assist at parishes, especially those on Cape Cod where he resided in his own residence, though on a more limited basis.

Bishop John Dooher, South Regional Bishop of the archdiocese was the principal celebrant of Father Slyva’s funeral Mass at St. Peter Parish, Plymouth on Feb. 28.

Among those priests concelebrating with Bishop Dooher were Father Thomas Foley, archdiocesan vicar for Parish Life and Leadership; Father Edwin Condon, archdiocesan vicar for Clergy Support; Father James McCune, director of the Office for Senior Priests; Father William Palardy, of the faculty of Blessed John XXIII National Seminary who also served as the homilist; Father John Schatzel, senior priest; and local pastors Father James Braley, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Parish, Plymouth and Father James Mahoney, St. Bridget Parish, Abington.

Following the funeral Mass Father Slyva was buried in Vine Hills Cemetery, Plymouth.