Social Work or School Teaching?
Arriving back to Wah Yan College, Kowloon in August 1967, I joined the Jesuit community of about twenty, ten of whom were involved in the school, and the rest were retired or in pastoral and social activities.
The new Principal, Fr. Derek Reid, had only recently arrived from Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. He was not new to me. We had come from Dublin together in 1960, and even before that he had known me. He prudently assigned me to teach English, Biology and Religious Formation in Form Three. Little did I then realize that I was to stay at that good level for the rest of the 39 years! But many things were to happen.
First, I must state that before returning to Hong Kong, I had written to the Superior, Fr. Fergus Cronin, who was a good friend of mine. I had found my four months in Malaysia a very good experience in parish work, but that I did not feel comfortable in Malaysia. The Catholics were largely of Indian origin. The Chinese were successful in studies and business and all English speaking, and lastly there were the Eurasians and foreigners. I wanted to be a missionary in China – not Malaysia. I also realized that to be in China as a priest was not then possible. I then expressed a desire to do priestly work in Hong Kong. I boldly suggested that I work full time as Chaplain to the Past Students of the Wah Yan Colleges, so I suggested teaching in Wah Yan for a year! This was warmly accepted as over a dozen Jesuits were working full time in the schools, but not one was full time with the past students.
Teaching Form Three A was easy. The other Jesuits considered the students well able of handling studies by themselves. Anyhow, I was also given responsibility for the running of the community, to see to the food and drinks, to the cleaning and maintenance of the community – as manager. I did not last six months, as my ideas of religious poverty clashed with the majority. I was junior, while the majority were settled in their ways as men in late middle age.
As for the students, I felt they were too regulated, formal and quiet- may be too disciplined! I felt they needed more creativity and freedom. There was much noise in my classes! How different I would be later, when social changes modified the conduct of the students and when I found them slightly disordered.
Teaching 26 periods a week and all that is involved was demanding. I now felt that I was a type of worker-priest. Instead of working in a factory, I was working at teaching fourteen-year-olds. By doing this, I was doing good, but also supporting myself and given many opportunities to do pastoral and social work. I wanted to identify myself with the poor, to bring the Gospel to them, and build them into Christian communities. There were my limitations of language, physical strength and personality. I also state the above, because other Jesuits shared my ideals, and either did not stay teaching in Wah Yan, or entered other fields of activities.
Then a new door was opened in 1968. Fr. Joseph Mallin had been Director of the Wah Yan Poor Boys’ Club for many years. He was now being transferred to Macau. I was asked to take over the Club, and I did it with delight. Here was social action at my doorstep, to help young boys who had no opportunity of schooling. The club members were living in huts or on rooftops. Some of them were apprentices.
The idea behind the Club came from Belvedere College, where I had studied in Dublin. There was a Newsboys Club for little boys who sold newspapers and were not able to go to school. The students of Belvedere got together under the guidance of a Jesuit, and organized activities for these boys, and helped their large families. Fr. Joseph Howatson started this same work at Wah Yan Robinson Road in 1947. With the opening of Wah Yan Kowloon in 1952, Wah Yan Poor Boys’ Club was started in 1954, with Fr. Richard Kennedy. He had a legacy after his father’s death, which gave the Club some finance. The rest of the finance came from a collection box in St. Ignatius Chapel.
When I took over in 1968, there were about 120 young boys in the Club who were not going to school. The older members of the Club ran it. The Club met in a room under the School Canteen, and held sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5.30 to 9pm. It was like a Night School for street children, with games and activities. There was a bowl of noodles at 7pm and rudimentary teaching of Chinese, English and Maths until 9pm. Those who came regularly were awarded every week with a bag of uncooked noodles and a tin of cooking oil, from American Relief Services, to take back to their mothers.
I had little energy and no experience. I was at a loss. I appealed to the Form Three boys I taught and the consequences are HISTORY. Lau Yuet Hung was the first to offer, and others joined him. The Club meetings three nights a week was demanding and a heavy responsibility, not only on the students but also a drain on my energies. The numbers in the Club was decreasing, as the American Relief Goods were suspended by 1969. Hong Kong society was changing. By 1973, there was free compulsory primary education for all. All children had now had to go to school.
I returned to Ireland for four months in 1972, so the Wah Yan boys were in full control of the Club. When I returned, it was no longer the Wah Yan Poor Boys’ Club, but the Wah Yan Childrens’ Club, affiliated to the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs Association- whose General Secretary had been no less a person that Fr. J. Howatson, S.J.
The Club now had some finance from the BGCA, so the Box for funds in St. Ignatius Chapel was removed. The families of the Club members were no longer living along Wylie Road, or under stairs or on rooftops, but were moving out to the New Territories. The Club was not needed for teaching, as all were in primary school by 1975. But there was need for play and personal development.
The Club was fully supported by the Jesuit community and by the school authorities. They saw it clearly as school social service. But the question of its continued existence began to be discussed in the early 1990s.
The students in 1972 had decided to suspend the night sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The Club would now have sessions on Saturday and Sundays from 2-5pm. I strongly approved of this as it was less a burden on the Wah Yan students- and me! They were now fully in charge, feeling the appreciation of the parents of the Club members, and enjoying the camaraderie of their peers in Wah Yan.
I was with the Club as its Director from 1968 to 1994. The Club ran very well. The students were very happy doing their work, and the club members were delighted with the activities and its environment. The parents of the children deeply appreciated the healthy influences of the Club and were determined to see it continue.
On the other hand, I saw that the days of the Club were numbered. The needs of the children required more specialized personnel. My vision of working for really poor disadvantaged children was receding. I could not even see my work as preventing young people joining triad societies. I did not seem to be able to do social work. Teaching in Wah Yan then seemed the only avenue for me to service society and be fully a priest.
As to what happened to the Club, it was finally closed in 1998. The needs of Information Technology demanded a suitable room, and the Club room was chosen. The former leaders of the Club had a hankering for their social service activities. They often met and tried to find other outlets for their spirit of service. A deep bond of friendship was maintained among the past leaders of the Club.
In January 2005, there was a gathering of more than forty former Club Leaders. They organized themselves into a social service group under the WYK Past Students’ Association. This is a source of great consolation to me.
It had been a delight for me to watch the young students I was teaching themselves taking on responsibilities to care for younger children. I insisted on an evaluation of each session of the Club, after the session ended. I made a point of being at the evaluation from 5pm to 5.45pm after each session on Saturdays and Sundays. Participation was intelligent, active and warm. Then I insisted all home before 6pm!
As the evaluation proceeded, each had to give a report of what work had been done and the difficulties or success of the activities for the children. I insisted on a free exchange of feelings and thinking, moderated by the chairman, who was different for each Club session. I was delighted to see a democratic process in action, and dreamed of how these students would grow up to be Men for others as civic and social leaders.
Though I was their teacher and Director, a new and exciting relationship developed which I appreciated. This was real education for the Wah Yan students.
As for my ideals in life, helping poor boys and giving them guidance for their future, it could have led me to full time social youth work. The Wah Yan Childrens’ Club was an outlet for my idealism. But it also showed me that my talents were not exactly suitable for social work. Gradually I began to see that my future was to be a Form Three teacher in Wah Yan College, Kowloon.
我於一九六七年返回九龍華仁書院，我加入了耶穌會會社，約有二十位耶蘇會士，其中十位參與學校工作，其餘的，有些退了休，有些做牧民和社區活動，新校長黎烈德神父(Fr. Derek Reid)，他剛從香港華仁書院過來，我跟他認識多年，我們於一九六零年一起從都柏林來香港，他委任我教中學三年班的英文､生物和宗教科。我並沒有想到，自此，我便一直在教書，教了三十九年，期間也發生過很多事情。
一九六八年，新的機會來臨，華仁貧童會的總督馬神父 (Fr. Joseph Mallin)，要調到澳門去，要求我接管貧童會， 我樂於接納，從天送來這個社區服務，讓我去幫助沒有機會上學的貧童，會童多是住在木屋或天臺，百些是學徒。
一九七二年，我回愛爾蘭四個月，由華仁學生全權管理貧童會。我回來時，貧童會改為華仁兒童會，附屬於「香港男女兒童會」(Boys' and Girl's Club Association)。