Willy Slavin was born in England in 1940 but his father moved the family back to Glasgow so he always considered himself Scottish. Growing up in the Govan area of the city in 1945 as a Catholic child of a Catholic family he attended a Catholic school, as was the norm at that time. Although his parents were working class they were intelligent and had high aspirations for their children, so, following an exhibition about vocations to the religious life in the Kelvin Hall, Willy put his hand up to apply for Blairs College in Aberdeen, a secondary school for those contemplating priesthood.
Following his years at Blairs College, Slavin was sent to Rome but on buying a Bible to take with him he was told not to read it! On describing this period of his life he wrote: “The priority seemed to be conformity to form rather than individual development. Priests didn’t have to be deeply religious, what was expected was a good grasp of ritual and willingness to follow the minutae of regulations. We should have been learning the arts and sciences instead of learning by rote snippets of medieval philosophy in Latin.” Despite this, he survived his time in Rome and went on to study for a degree in psychology which subsequently led to placements in tough housing schemes in Glasgow as well as a five year spell in Bangladesh.
His memoir, Life is Not a Long Quiet River, is written in three parts, the first of which is entitled, Obedience, and describes his life from boyhood to manhood. He deduced that life was not, as he had thought, about obedience to the gospel, but more about playing one’s part in a great game. The second and third sections, Poverty and Celibacy, go back over his life but unfortunately leave the reader feeling like they are just re-reading the same story over again.
This is not the book one might expect from reading the description on the back which details Slavin living a life of quiet reflection as a recluse. Rather than a contemplative work about embracing old age and the freedom it gives it is a story of the hard working life of a priest. Slavin was described as a radical by other priests. His ambition had initially been to make the Bible available to parishioners but latterly he realised that what was most important was how we were loved and how we loved others.