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Guest Blog: Damien Burke of the Irish Jesuit Archive on the Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong

Submitted on 30th May 2022

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In this blog post Damien Burke, Province Archivist of the Irish Jesuit Archives, shares more details about the background of their collection ‘Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong’ and the history of the Jesuits who undertook this mission.

In this blog post, Damien Burke, Province Archivist of the Irish Jesuit Archives, shares more details about the background of their collection ‘Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong’  and the history of these Jesuits who undertook this mission. This collection was published in the Repository recently and can now be explored.

Irish Jesuits were invited to Hong Kong in 1926, by the Vicar Apostolic, Bishop Henry Valtorta (1883–1953), and found the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of St Francis Xavier (1506–1552), impossible to resist. It is an overstatement to say this was a Cork inspired mission; however, three of the six Jesuit pioneers, George Byrne (1879–1962), Daniel Finn (1886–1936) and Richard Gallagher (1887–1960), all came from the rebel county. Indeed, Finn (of Finn’s Corner – Corkonians will know!) describes his new surroundings in Hong Kong like this:

If your Reverence knows Montenotte in Cork, plant more tropical trees in the image, spread a swarming sea of houses on the lower water-side level, develop the Lee into a mountain or island-ringed harbor [sic] with a score of merchant steamers at anchor and a creeping net-work of sampans, soak the whole in a drowsy haze of sunlight, and you have the setting.

This description by Finn (an archaeologist and a geographer) to his Dublin-based Provincial, complements the photographs dutifully posted back to Ireland, which is archived in this collection, in the Ignatian spirit of communication. The initial reticence in Irish Jesuit circles, in having to teach in a British colony through English, was overcome when they realised that Hong Kong provided a missionary base in, and around, South China, where local language learning was key. Oral history has it that many Irish Jesuit missionaries were selected for Hong Kong because they were already fluent as Gaelige!

The photographic collection reflects the work that Irish Jesuits accomplished in their first decade: caring for the Catholic hostel at the University of Hong Kong and the Regional Seminary for South China at Aberdeen, Hong Kong; teaching at Star of the Sea School, Shiuhing (Zhaoqing), China, the Sacred Heart College, Canton (Guangdong), China and at Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. The Jesuit photographers – Thomas Cooney (1896–1985), Joseph Garland (1909–1997), Jeremiah J Hogan (1903–1986) and Thomas Martin (1907–1978) depicted urban and rural scenes, sports, buildings, landscapes, and Jesuits at rest and play. In Wah Yan College, a photographic club and darkroom were established, and exhibition prize-winners were asked to send photos to the Amsterdam exhibition (1936).

These photographic endeavours had their limits – Tom Martin’s camera work was enough to get the gentlest of slaps on the wrists from his Provincial: ‘You know, I suppose, that it is forbidden to Ours by Very Rev. Fr General to have or use a camera for private purposes; hence during your Theology, you are not to have or use a camera without leave toties quotes from the Rector’. [Toties Quotes are an indulgence that is granted as work is required]. 

This wonderful collection from the Irish Jesuit Archives ‘Photographs of Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong’ can be browsed now in the Repository. You can find out more about the mission and the material held in the Irish Jesuit Archives on their website.



Irish Jesuits. (2022) Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong, Digital Repository of Ireland [Distributor], Irish Jesuit Archives [Depositing Institution],

DRI is funded by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS) via the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and the Irish Research Council (IRC).

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