Chapter Five Ireland or China?
While I was at the end of my philosophy studies, Fr Joseph Erraught, Principal of Mungret College, Limerick, visited me. I felt privileged to have the Principal of a College come a long way to ask me to teach in his school. He explained that his College had never taught Biology and he would be most grateful if I could start such a course. Then he also needed a teacher of French, and requested I also take on those classes. I was thrilled and accepted. But what developed later was sad.
He wanted to up-grade the College, which had 120 students as boarders and ten day-time students. He felt the students were only interested in sport, and did not pay enough attention to academic excellence. He was very critical of the teaching staff, and showed he wanted to uplift the academic standard of the school with my help!
I was pleased to be asked, but I found him very tense and neurotic. I clashed with him after a few months and sided with other Jesuits who disliked him. My fiery temper and emotional instability came out against the Principal, as students know only too well when I get angry in class!
The students at Mungret College were very friendly. The school had a wonderful “family spirit”. I found the fourteen-year-olds delightful to teach. The classes were small, from six to twelve in a class, but few were eager to study. I got along well with them. I also taught some Biology to the Apostolics, post secondary students who were preparing to go to a seminary to study to be priests. With me were six other young Jesuits teaching for three years. Percy Winder was somewhat like me, as he was to spend the next thirty years teaching at Clongowes Wood College, a prestige school. The others all left the Society of Jesus.
Outside my room was a statue of St. Francis Xavier where I often prayed. It was quite common in all Jesuit churches to have the Novena of Grace, nine days of prayer to St. Francis Xavier for a special personal intention. During this novena, the life of Xavier was spoken about and there was a special prayer to him. Many people then heard of the life of Francis Xavier. In my eight years of Jesuit life, I heard much of Jesuit work in China, and read attentively the life of Matteo Ricci. Now in Mungret College, I found the books of Fr. D. McDonald, who had been in Hong Kong from 1932 to 1940. He had taken Cantonese studies very seriously and worked on an English Cantonese Dictionary. He worked so hard that he had a physical breakdown and returned to Ireland, where he died at Mungret College. His books on China and his painstaking unfinished work on a Cantonese- English dictionary was there. I wondered about him. I had tried to study some Chinese Philosophy during my past three years of Philosophy, but I did not succeed in understanding Chinese philosophy, nor did I get help from my Professors. However, the idea of being a missionary in China gradually developed. I wanted to be like Francis Xavier, and go to China to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As was the Jesuit custom, there was reading at community meals. As the junior among the Jesuits, I had to read out a letter during meals from the Jesuit Superior General, Fr. Janssens. He lamented that only a fraction of Jesuits were in missionary lands. He requested each Jesuit to discern if they might not have a missionary vocation, and to bring this up with Superiors or write to him personally. I wrote personally, giving my background and aspiration to work as a priest in Ireland. But I pointed out that I was now in Mungret College with a community of twenty Jesuits, who were teaching 130 Catholic boys and 90 young men destined for the priesthood. As for going abroad, I saw great needs in Ireland for preaching and giving retreats. If the General considered I would do greater good on the missions, then I would answer his call. But I could not face Africa; I disliked Hispanic ways; and I did not feel I would do well in India. However, I would be inclined to go as a missionary to China, like Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci !
In February 1960, I was told that I would be going to Hong Kong. The Jesuit Superior in Ireland was unhappy. He knew of the trouble I was causing in Mungret College. It was obvious that he did not approve of my going to Hong Kong. I lacked the intelligence needed; I had emotional out bursts; I lacked prudence and I did not seem to have the ability to relate well with people - all of which was essential to be a Jesuit in China! However, he was overruled by the General Superior in Rome.
My sister saw me off in June 1960, when I left Dublin to cross the Irish Sea. As I spoke French well, but had never been to France, I arranged to stay in a parish in Paris for three weeks, which was an eye opener. I found Marcel, a cousin, who was the only son of Charles, an elder brother of my mother, who had married a French lady and was in Paris. There was also an elder sister of my mother in Paris, Nellie, but she was “crazy” and I was warned not to contact her. But I met her daughter in Rome later on.
The twenty four-day sea voyage on SS Asia left from Naples, where I joined the other five Jesuits going to Hong Kong. I was in a second class cabin with : Frs. James Hurley, Fr. Derek Reid, Fr.Peter Brady, with whom I was to be intimately involved with for the next decades.
The voyage was the realization of many of my dreams, as I was always interested in Geography but never had the chance to travel. A few years after, the Jumbo Jet Boeing made travel abroad cheaper, faster and more ordinary, and young people and families could travel. But for me this was to be the voyage of a life time.
I made a point to getting to know every one of the 160 of the Second Class passengers! There were also Italian missionaries going to Ethiopia and India. There were even people coming out on contract to work for the Hong Kong Government.
Passing through the Suez, I found two uncles and two cousins waiting for me as the ship docked. Some years later, they moved to Italy and Canada. Aden was a challenging place, and Karachi even more! In Bombay, Fr Dan Donnelly ( formerly of Hong Kong ) met me and showed me around Jesuit houses within twenty four hours ; in Columbo, I roamed the streets; in Singapore I met many Jesuits who had been in Hong Kong. And finally coming in by Lye Ue Mun Pass sailed into Hong Kong Harbour. I felt I was coming around Howth Head, where I lived in Dublin, because of the hills looked the same, covered in plentiful green vegetation. The twenty four days sea journey was fulfilling! And now I was to learn Cantonese and prepare to be a missionary in China!
Visit of Irish Prime Minister July 2005 to Irish Jesuits 2005
我的哲學課程將近結束時， 在利默裡克(Limerick) 麥烈書院(Mungret College) 的校長爾神父(Fr. Joseph Erraught) 來找我，我很驚喜他從老遠來找我，邀請我去麥烈書院教書，他解釋學院沒有生物科，如果我能創立一個新課程，他會很感激我，同時他需要一個法文老師，他還希望我教幾班法文，我很高興，欣然接受了他的邀請，但後來的發展卻糟透了。
在我八年的耶穌會士生涯中，我聽到很多有關耶穌會士在中國工作的事蹟，我很專心去閱讀利馬竇的生平，現在在麥烈書院，我找到麥神父 (Fr. D. McDonald) 著的書籍，他曾於一九三二年至一九四零年來過香港，很認真的學廣東話，同時著作一本英文廣東話的字典，他工作太辛勞，精神垮下來了，他便返回愛爾蘭，在麥烈書院辭世。他著作有關中國的書，和他埋頭苦幹做而未完成的英文廣東話字典，都留在麥烈書院，我很驚嘆他做的一切，在過去讀哲學的三年期間，我嘗試學一些中國哲學，我並不能成功明白中國的哲學，亦沒有教授指導我，但是我到中國傳道的念頭逐漸萌芽，我希望學聖芳濟一樣，到中國佈道耶穌基督的福音。