Deacon Eric Silva once wanted to be a sports broadcaster. God had other plans.
When he was younger, Silva had been complimented on his speaking voice. He had also become a huge sports fan, bonding with his father Antonio over the Patriots 2001 Superbowl win and later, the Red Sox triumph in the 2004 World Series.
Sports broadcasting seemed a perfect fit. “I figured that’s where I would take my gifts,” Silva said.
As an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island, Silva
majored in communications, graduating in 2013. In his last year, he took one step closer to his dream, interning for Clear Channel Communications, which broadcasts WHJJ, WHJW, Coast 93, and B101 in Rhode Island.
However, Silva had heard a different calling as a young boy. Growing up in a big Catholic family, Silva found himself often facing questions about whether he wanted to be a priest. “I’d kind of laugh it off and say ‘No, I want to get married.’”
But after making his First Communion, Silva became an altar server at his home parish, St. Mark’s in Cranston, and the call got louder. Being an altar server, Silva said, instilled a love of the Eucharist and liturgy. He also got to know people in the parish who raised the same question that family members had.
“Ever since I was young I always had the seed planted in my heart, in my ear,” Silva said.
When he was 12, the assistant pastor at the time, Father Giacomo Capoverdi, had the altar servers stand next to him during the consecration, turning the pages of the missal. It was the closest Silva had ever been to the altar.
“That left a profound impact on me,” Silva said.
A week or two later, Silva has what he describes as an “eye-opening” moment. He was lying in bed on a Saturday and realized that he thought he wanted to be a priest. “I felt an attraction to what I saw going on in front of me. I could feel a peace in my heart when I thought about it,” Silva said.
As Silva moved into his teenage years, he says he drifted a little, but he remained “grounded” in his parish, continuing to work as an altar server. When Father Anthony Verdelotti arrived as pastor, around 2005, Silva found himself once again hearing the call. Father Verdelotti asked if he’d ever considered being a priest, saying he’d be a good one.
“He took the seed that was planted early in my youth and nurtured it,” Silva said.
That seed was also fostered by Silva’s attendance in Catholic schools, according to his mother, Theresa Silva. Silva attended elementary and middle school at St. Mark’s, completing high school at Bishop Hendricken.
It wasn’t until he entered college, though, that Silva began taking his faith more seriously. “That’s when I had my ‘aha moment,’” he said.
“I was like the Prodigal Son. I went, drifted, and then I came and I’m like … ‘OK, God I’m ready to come back and to take everything seriously,’” Silva said.
That feeling of peace he’d had as a child returned. Silva started praying about being a priest and went to confession regularly. He also attended vocation retreats and other discernment events with the Diocese of Providence.
“I had that peace throughout,” Silva said.
It was in college that Silva finally told his parents of his interest in the priesthood.
“It’s what he wanted. I’ve told him do what makes you happy,” said his father, Antonio Silva.
Antonio recalls being asked a similar question about whether he wanted to be a priest as a young child. He chose marriage; his son is now making the other choice.
“God was going to get one of us,” his son joked.
During his internship, Silva finally started heeding his other, deeper call and applied to Our Lady of Providence, the diocesan seminary. In the meantime, he was hired as a part-time producer at WHJJ, where he helped broadcast Pawsox games and worked on various talk shows including the Helen Glover Show.
When he was accepted into seminary, Silva was assigned to St. John’s Seminary in Boston, since he already had his undergraduate degree. Silva, now 28, spent all six years of his formation there.
“It’s been a long journey,” Theresa Silva said. “We are just so very proud of him.”
Although Silva will not be a sports broadcaster, he says the gift that he has—his speaking voice—will be put to good use as a preacher. He’s already had a chance to put that into practice as he’s learned the fine art of preaching while a deacon for the past year at St. Philip’s in Greenville.
But it’s actually a priestly duty that requires softer, quiet speaking that Silva is most looking forward to.
“It’s such an intimate moment. It’s where you have a chance to bare your soul to God with the priest. And there’s been moments as the penitent where I felt the presence of God. And I’ve been reaffirmed in the life of the faith and my vocation by the careful counsel of the priest and I look forward to using what I’ve learned to help any other parishioner or whomever I may encounter in the confession,” Silva said.