He was born on September 27th, 1907 in the city of Talca. He was one of the 19 children of the marriage made up by Raul Silva Silva and Mercedes Henriquez.
He enrolled in the Blanco Encalada Pubic School in 1918, which was under the charge of the Hermanos de las Escuelas Cristianas (Brothers of Christian Schools), and later he attended the Liceo Aleman de Santiago (German Public School of Santiago), which belonged to the fathers of the Verbo Divino (Divine Verb).
He received his bachelor’s degree and entered the Law School of the Universidad Catolica de Chile, becoming a lawyer in December of 1929.
At the age of 22 he entered the Salesian Congregation of Santiago. He studied Philosophy in Chile and then he studied a doctorate in Theology and Canon Law in Turin (Italy). He was ordained a priest on July 4th, 1938.
He returned to Chile at the end on 1938 and taught Canon Law and Moral Theology and Ecclesiastic History within his congregation. In 1943 he was named headmaster of the Manual Arriaran Barros Public School, and while he was there he built the San Juan Bosco National Temple. In 1948, he was appointed headmaster of the Patrocinio San Jose school and was the founder and national president of the FIDE, Federation of Secondary Private Schools. Two years later he took over the position of director of the Salesian Theological Institute.
In early 1953, The Sacred Congregation of Religious Officials of the Vatican ordered local congresses of the religious orders to be held. Silva Henriquez was named the organizer of the event in our country.
He also participated in the creation of the Catholic Institute of Migrations, or Incami (in 1955) and of Caritas Chile. He was president of Caritas International (1962).
Bishop, archbishop and cardinal
On October 24th, 1959, he was named bishop of Valparaiso by Pope John XXIII. Then, on May 25th, 1961, he was named archbishop of Santiago. In February of 1962, the same pontiff named him cardinal and his Episcopal motto was Caritas Christi urget nos (Christ’s love urges us on).
His work at the archdiocese of Santiago was characterized by his numerous projects. Just to name a few: he organized the Archdiocese into deanships, pastoral zones and special vicarages and he founded numerous institutions for religious education, social promotion, the defense of justice and human rights.
During the government of Eduardo Frei Montalva, Silva Henriquez began the Agrarian Reform by propelling the distribution of land belonging to the Church between workers and farmers.
During the troubled decades of the 1960’s and 70’s, the cardinal attempted to mediate between the different political factions. Likewise, he mediated the student uprisings performed by Chilean university students in 1967.
Between 1972 and 1973 he tried to reach an understanding between the government of Salvador Allende and the opposition. Alas, he was unable to prevent the coup d’état on September 11th, 1973.
Shortly after, Silva Henriquez rose as one of the main defenders of human rights. Thanks to his ecumenism, with the help of several other Christian churches he founded the Pro Peace Committee (1974), in order to safeguard people persecuted by the dictatorship.
In time, this committee became the Vicarage of Solidarity (1976).
On June 10th 1983 he left the Archdiocese of Santiago, being succeeded by Monsignor Juan Francisco Fresno. After this, he was away from public life for he suffered Alzheimer’s.
He passed away on April 9th 1999. He was offered the highest State honors at his funeral and his procession was accompanied by thousands of people.