Thomas F. Ryan was a man of immense energy, with a strong commitment to social justice. He combined religion and dedication to the poor in Ireland, China and Hong Kong. As a scholastic in Belvedere College, he taught his classes, took an MA at University College Dublin, and was deeply involved with the Belvedere Newsboys Club and in work for young people in remand homes. He was a very capable organiser and administrator, both within the Society of Jesus and as a member of the Hong Kong government. His planning was marked by imagination and vision, and he was deeply devoted to the Chinese people and had many Chinese friends, one of whom arranged for a special tablet and music fellowship in his honour in St Georges Royal Chapel in Windsor Castle. As a Jesuit he may also be considered a pioneer in his Orders extensive commitment to the welfare of refugees.
Thomas J. Morrissey
Thomas J. Morrissey, S.J., is a native of Limerick and was founder-headmaster of Crescent College Comprehensive, and subsequently director of the National College of Industrial Relations, Dublin. He has a life-long interest in history, and his NUI degrees and Ph D are in history. He has published twelve books of historical biography dealing with social/labour history, education and ecclesiastical history. In 2005 he spent some months in Hong Kong, Macao and Southern China in preparation for his history of the Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong, Macao, South China and Malaysia. Father Tom Ryan played a considerable role in that history. Fr Morrissey will be publishing a biography of Archbishop Edward Byrne of Dublin,1921-1940, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthe Forgotten ArchbishopÃ¢â‚¬â„¢, in autumn 2010.
Some older readers may recall a book which was widely read in the post war years, called Jesuits Under Fire, which told the story of the Jesuits in Hong Kong during the difficult years of the Japanese occupation.
This was the work of Fr Tom Ryan, but it was only a small part of a long and crowded career which Fr Morrissey has pieced together as a follow up to his recent history of the Jesuits mission as a whole in South China.
The allusion in the title to Windsor Castle, not one would have though a natural haunt of Irish Jesuits, refers to a plaque which now strands in the Royal Chapel there, dedicated to the memory of Fr Ryan. Fixed on the panelling leading to the organ loft, this was placed to commemorate his love of music which he taught.
It was an ironic conclusion to a career which had started in an ordinary enough way for a young man from Cork. He joined the Jesuits, taught in Belvedere and studied in UCD. In Dublin he was much engaged with the Belvedere Newsboys Club, but sent to the mission in China he deployed his great skills in the service of the poor their.
He was an extraordinary person, but as a teacher, musician and organiser, rising even to become a minister in the Hong Kong government - a sort of ultimate mandarin in some ways.
Fr Morrissey has already described much of this career in his earlier work, but in this book he suggests that Fr Ryan might be seen as a pioneer in his Orders extensive commitment to the welfare of refugees.
Ryan was already in his forties when he went out to China in 1933. The country, which had become a republic in 1911 under Sun Yat Sen, was divided. Though the nascent communists were still in their mountain retreats, the influence of war lords was extensive and underpinned by the presence of various foreign influences. Soon the Japanese would begin their long and cruel expansion through the country. Not a comfortable time, but a time for witness.
Yet a good third of the book is devoted to the period after the war. Ryan did not live to the end of British rule under which his work had thrived, but he did see the hardship of the civil war that ended in the establishment of the communists (a war, in which some calculate, 29 million people died). Though Hong Kong was a colony, it was a place where education trade and the arts could flourish. In all of these Fr Ryan played his part.
This little book is a warm tribute to a great man, but a chronicle of important changing times in two countries, Ireland and China, and the perspectives it provides and insights it provides are still very valuable to use. China after all is very much the coming great power of the century.
Every book that through the experiences of such sensitive western witnesses that lets us into the secrets of the Chinese outlook is to be warmly welcomed. This is a notable addition to Tom Morrisseys corpus of historical work.
- The Irish Catholic, 24th June, 2010