It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Dr. Gerald Sylvester who passed away peacefully on May 19th in his 90th year surrounded in love by his family.
But it is also with great joy that we celebrate his life, so well-lived. An entrepreneur, teacher and college administrator, Gerry was born in Ste. Rose du Lac, Manitoba in 1929, son of Charles Sylvester and Marie-Louise (née Cognacq). He attended St. Paul’s High School in Winnipeg and Notre Dame in Wilcox, SK where he was mentored by Pere Athol Murray and discovered his passion for education. He received his B.A. from the University of Ottawa in 1950 before moving to Penticton, B.C. where he met and married in 1957 the love of his life, Marian McAstocker. Gerry established several small businesses, and he and Marian settled in Trail, B.C. to raise their family.
When Notre Dame University was established in Nelson, BC, Gerry earned a master’s degree from St. Louis University before returning to the Kootenays to teach history and serve as special assistant to the ND President. In 1966 he moved the family to Maillardville, a suburb of Vancouver, BC to begin his doctoral studies at the recently opened Simon Fraser University while teaching at VCC King Edward. He assisted in the establishment of the new Langara Community College campus, where he taught history and served as Dean of Studies for over a decade. He was appointed President of Malaspina (now Vancouver Island University) in 1979. At both Langara and Malaspina, Gerry spearheaded First Nations studies, and supported the renaissance in the art and culture of BC’s first peoples. He completed his four decades of teaching and administrative leadership in the late 90s, serving terms as Dean of the College of New Caledonia in Prince George and VCC King Ed.
Gerry then returned full-time to his life-long commitment to advancing the cause of Catholic education. Long a key advisor to the archbishops of Nelson and Vancouver, he had contributed to the planning that led to the funding for B.C. Catholic schools. He was a driving force behind the establishment of Vancouver’s first undergraduate Catholic college, Corpus Christi, and served as college’s Executive Director when it opened on the campus of St. Mark’s College, UBC in 1999. For his foundational contributions to Catholic education and the Catholic church Gerry was awarded an honorary doctorate from St. Mark’s in 2006 and with Marian was awarded the papal Cross Pro Ecclesiae et Pontifice by Pope Francis in 2017.
Predeceased by his beloved wife of 60 years and his siblings Adrienne Vercoulen, and Grant and Barry Sylvester, he is survived by his brothers Bernard and Ted Sylvester, his five children—John, Shauna (Steve), Delyse (Lex), David (Allyson), and Cam (Jeanne)—and his many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was a man of deep faith and a proud Canadian, and educational visionary, and we will all miss his frenzied piano playing, self-deprecating humour, commitment to social justice, and gentle concern for all of us whose lives he touched. Deep gratitude to Cherryl Acuario, Pearl Gervais, Bishop Remi DeRoo, Ross Gentleman, Phil Mittlestead, many friends and colleagues, and the entire McAstocker and Sylvester clans whose love and support sustained Marian and Gerry and the family over many years.
Donations welcome to students-in-need through the existing Marian and Dr. Gerald Sylvester Social Justice Scholarship at Corpus Christi College. Funeral plans will be private and a public memorial will take place when permitted by public health guidelines.