St Clement Melikite Catholic Church Queensland

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Archimandrite Sylwanos (Sylvanous) Mansour


MANSOUR, SYLWANOS (1854-1929), Melkite priest, was born on 24 February 1854 at Ras-Ba'albeck Lebanon and baptized Youssef Elias Assaad, one of four sons of Elias Assaad Mansour, carpenter, and his wife Sadie, née Ajubl. Entering the Shuweirite monastery of St John the Baptist at Khensharra in January 1875, he continued his studies at Ain-Traz clerical college, was ordained priest, with the religious name Sylwanos, on 14 January 1880 and took charge of the parish at Ras-Ba'albeck. He was secretary to Bishop Atta of Homs in 1886 and in 1887 parish priest at Ramle, Palestine. Moving to Beirut, he acquired repute for his strength and became known as 'the fighting priest'—when taunted by ruffians on one occasion, 'His patience being eventually exhausted he raised his stick, asked God's forgiveness, and slashed into them right and left'.

In the 1880s Syrians, overwhelmingly Christians from what is now Lebanon, migrated to New South Wales, often working as hawkers before acquiring capital to set up shops in inner Sydney. Following numerous petitions from the Melkite community, which included some of Mansour's relations, Patriarch Gregory Joseph appointed Father Sylvanos parish priest to Australia. After a short time in France, he arrived in Sydney in 1891. The census that year recorded 116 Syrian-born residents of the colony. Mansour ministered at first to the three Christian communities (Melkite, Maronite and Orthodox). A temporary church and school was set up in Redfern. He travelled extensively throughout the colony to visit his scattered flock, collecting money to build a church. In 1893 at Waterloo, Sydney, the foundation stone of the first Lebanese Church in Australia was laid. Originally planned for the three communities, when completed and consecrated as St Michael's by Cardinal Moran in 1895 it became exclusively Melkite.

Lebanese migration to New South Wales grew rapidly in the 1890s—in 1901 the census recorded 739 Lebanese born. They had come to settle: Father Sylwanos performed 37 baptisms in 1893-99. From 1900 assisted by another priest, he was able to continue his fund-raising travels to pay off the church debt.

Although restricted after 1901, Lebanese migration was not completely curtailed—there were 850 Lebanese-born residents of the State by 1921. Mansour learned to speak English but always conducted services in Arabic. In 1929 a second Melkite church was consecrated, in Brisbane. Archimandrite Sylwanos was visiting that community when he died on 18 November 1929. He was buried in Rookwood cemetery, Sydney, and was survived in Australia by a cousin and at least four nephews. Strong but not tall, Mansour was a man of 'unfailing courage, strong faith, and adamant energy'. Photographs show him with a full but trimmed, white beard and a dignified and distinguished face alive with intelligence and humour.

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