Father Thomas Ryan, SJ of Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, died at Canossa Hospital on 4 February 1971, aged 81.
He was born in Cork, Ireland, on 30 December 1889. On the completion of his secondary education, he joined the Jesuits and was ordained priest in 1922, after the usual Jesuit course of studies.
SOCIAL WORK IN IRELAND After his ordination he became editor, first of the Madonna, and later of the Irish messenger of the Sacred Heart. With his editorial work he combined a vigorous social apostolate and soon became the refuge of all Dublin parents whose children were getting into trouble. He was always businesslike and never soft, yet he won the confidence of the young delinquents as well as that of the children’s court: before he left Ireland in 1933, he visited every prison in Ireland to say goodbye to old friends who had graduated into adult delinquents without losing their trust in Father Ryan. The army of slum-dwellers who came to see him when he was leaving for Hong Kong has entered into the folk memory of Dublin.
SOCIAL WORK IN HONG KONG When he reached Hong Kong, Father Ryan was 43. His effort to learn Cantonese met with little success, so to his lasting regret, he found himself cut off from the direct social work that he had practiced in Ireland. He turned instead to social organization, then much needed in a community that was dominated by almost unadulterated laissez faire - no Welfare Department in those days and very few voluntary agencies or associations. Despite the fact that he was senior teacher of English in Wah Yan College and editor of the Rock, a lively monthly of general interest, he threw himself into whole-heartedly into committee work and into seeing to it that the decisions of the committees were carried out. The development of a social conscience in Hong Kong was due in large measure to the work of Bishop Hall, then at the head of the Anglican diocese of Hong Kong and Macau, and Father Ryan. The Hong Kong Housing Society - the pioneer of organized low-cost housing in Hong Kong -was on fruit of their labours.
When Canton fell to the Japanese in 1938 and refugees began to pour into Hong Kong, the task of providing for the refugees who poured into Hong Kong fell largely upon a committee of which Bishop Hall and Father Ryan were the leading spirits, and the executive work, providing food and shelter, fell chiefly to Father Ryan.
MUSIC AND THE ARTS With all this Father Ryan had already begun his career as a broadcaster on music and the arts generally. In time he became music critic to the South China Morning Post. By some he was thought of quite wrongly, as chiefly an aesthete.
Soon after the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese in 1941, he went first to Kweilin, Kwangsi, and later to Chungking, where he did relief work and continued his broadcasting.
FORESTRY AND AGRICULTURE After the war came perhaps the oddest period of his varied life. There was a grave shortage of the administrators needed to restart the shattered life of Hong Kong. The then Colonial Secretary, who had seem Father Ryan at work in Chungking, asked him to take over the directorship of Botany and Forestry and to help in setting up a Department of Agriculture. Father Ryan, city-born and city-bred, knew nothing about botany, forestry or agriculture, but he did know how to get reliable information and advice and how to get things done. He welded his co-workers into a team and was soon busy introducing a New South Wales method of planting seedlings, planting roadsides, experimenting with tung-oil production and looking for boars to raise the standard of Hong Kong pig-breeding.
Having discovered that middlemen were exploiting the New Territories vegetable growers, he went into vigorous action, founding the Wholesale Vegetable Marketing Organization. The middlemen put up a fight but the WVMO won.
JESUIT SUPERIOR In 1947 regular administrators were available. Father Ryan laid down his official responsibilities, only to find a new responsibility as superior of the Hong Kong Jesuits. A man of striking initiative, he showed himself ready as superior to welcome initiative in others. “It has never been done before” always made him eager to reply “Let us do it now”. The plan for new buildings for Wah Yan Colleges in Hong Kong and Kowloon came from him, though the execution of the plan fell to his successor, Father R. Harris.
On ceasing to be superior in 1950, Father Ryan continued his writing, broadcasting and teaching - only his teaching had been interrupted. His books include China through Catholic Eyes, Jesuits Under Fire (siege of Hong Kong), The Story of a Hundred Years (history of the P.I.M.E. in Hong Kong), Jesuits in China and Catholic Guide to Hong Kong.
COUNSELLOR AND FRIEND By this time father Ryan knew an enormous number of people in Hong Kong. His forthright and at times brusque manner did appeal to everyone; he had stood on many a corn in his time. But a very large number of people treasured his friendship and his advice, and a constant stream of callers was part of his life in his later active years. The advice was giving vigorously and uncompromisingly, and was all the more valued for that.
In 1964 the University of Hong Kong conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate of Letters. At the conferring, Father Ryan was the spokesman who expressed the thanks of the five who received honorary degrees that day. This was his last important public appearance, for by then his health had begun to fail. There was no loss of intellectual clarity of interest in current affairs - at his funeral - one of his visitors in his last few days in hospital reported that Father Ryan had submitted him to the usual searching examination into everything that was happening in Hong Kong. Physically, however, he had become weak, and he suffered much pain.
A period of comparative seclusion now began. All his life he had slept only about four hours daily and had worked for the rest of the time. When he found himself unable to do what he regarded as serious work, he became impatient to die. He suffered greatly and several times seemed on the verge of death. His partial recoveries from these bad spells caused him nothing but annoyance. The much longed - for end came at 9am on 4 February.
Date(s): February 4, 2011. Album by Wah Yan Hong Kong 1974. 1 - 17 of 17 Total. 347 Visits.