Francis Louis Cosmas Silva

By Anne-Marie Rego
Francis Silva was born in Mangalore, on the 27th of September, 1875, the son of Laurence Silva and Isabella Baptist. He came to Bombay while still young and matriculated from St. Xavier’s in 1894. For the next 30 years, he worked in the office of the Accountant General, retiring as Superintendent.

He was a man of great vision and foresight and believed wholeheartedly in service to the community and to the Christians in particular. He saw the need for the Christian community in Bombay to unite itself in order to have an active role in the local politics of the day and also to help the apprehensive new arrivals from other parts of India who needed a foothold and a hand up in the big, bustling, businesslike city so unlike their quiet little towns.

By 1901, there were sufficient Mangaloreans in Bombay to form an Association of their own, and so he, along with some of the other stalwarts, founded the Kanara Catholic Association on 17th February, 1901. F.L. Silva was the first Honorary Secretary of the KCA and was the Vice-President twice, in 1902 and 1908. 

He then held the post of President of the KCA in 1910, 1911, 1912,1913, 1921 and 1923.

The KCA Golden Jubilee Souvenir states “The indomitable zeal with which he worked for the Association from the time of its inception up to the date of his departure to Bangalore earned for him the honour of being elected President on five other occasions.”

While he continued to extend his support to the KCA, he also saw the growing need for housing among the Catholics due to the large number of young people arriving in Bombay for better prospects. Along with Frank Oliveira (an East Indian) and Dr. A.G. Viegas (a Goan), he formed the Bombay Catholic Co-operative Housing Society (Willingdon Colony) in Santa Cruz in 1919.

As Teresa Albuquerque states in her book “Santa Cruz that was”, “Who was F.L. Silva? He has been called “the prime mover of this Society”. Assistant-Examiner of Accounts, Indian Finance Department, F.L. Silva, J.P., was a great social worker who actively sponsored several Catholic organisations here in Bombay and later in the South.  Under his guidance, the Christian Association became a live body. He was subsequently nominated a member of the Mysore Legislative Council, became the Director of Mysore Spun Silk Limited and represented the Silk Trade in the Indo-Japanese Trade Talks as a non-official advisor to the Government of India.”

He took a furlough from his job to personally supervise the setting up of not only the Willingdon Colony but also assisted in the formation of the Mangalorean Garden Homes in Bandra.

His grandchildren remember him as a very soft-spoken man who concealed a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience. He was a pioneer in the silk industry. His grand-daughter Colleen states: “Grandpa ‘s love for learning led him to study the making of silk and the rearing of silk worms. I remember vividly the smell of the boiling silk cocoons.” He taught the Kollegal village women to grow mulberry trees on which these worms thrived.

He set up Bangalore Silk Filatures in 1922, the first electrically operated silk factory in India. In 1938 he set up Kollegal Silk Filatures which was later taken over by the Government of India when World War II started in order to make silk parachutes. In 1912, he purchased a large property adjoining the Jeppu Seminary in Mangalore and the road leading to this was named F. L. Silva Road after him and is still there today.

He married Letitia Vas in St. Peter’s Church, Bandra on the 13th of February 1904. They had eight children; Eulalia, Lawrence, Irene, Constance, Richard, Winston, Clarence and Charles. He would have been very proud of his daughter Irene Rego who carried forward his strong belief in community service and was very actively involved in the KCA and its St. Anthony’s League. His son-in-law Louis Rego was the KCA Honorary Secretary from 1926-29 and contributed Rs. 10,000/- towards the construction of Yuvakalaya. Furthermore, his grandson Edgar Sylva was the longest serving KCA President from 1990-2007. Now, the torch has been passed on to F.L. Silva’s great-grandson Sunil Alva.

His eldest grandson Gerard Rego remembers his grandfather as “a very religious man and a strict disciplinarian. He ensured that we went for daily mass even while we were on holiday. No meal could start without the ‘Grace before meals’, no matter how famished we were. I was always in awe of him as he was a multi- faceted personality – a great orator, planner and thinker. His home was open to everyone and he was known for his big and generous heart.

Mummy (Irene Rego) always talked about his community spirit – when they settled in Bangalore, their house always hosted any Mangalorean who was visiting – guests came first, family took second place. – as they were one of the pioneer Mangalorean families in Bangalore families in Bangalore.”

His grand-daughter Colleen Shenoi remembers him as “a man far ahead of his times, a visionary, a stalwart, a righteous and extraordinary man. He along with his peers are our guiding lights, for future generations to emulate and admire.”

Another grand-daughter Selma Deans says “He was an inspirational role model for us — a soft spoken, unassuming and self-effacing man with determination who looked into the future and selflessly gave for the betterment of others.”

Francis Silva passed away on the 8th of February 1949 aged 73, in Bangalore and was interred in the Hosur Road Cemetery. 

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Founded in 1901, the Kanara Catholic Association (KCA), Mumbai is the premier community organization of the Mangalorean Catholic community of Mumbai.  With approximately 800 members on its rolls, the KCA has a rich legacy of service to the community & society at large. 

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