in Ireland (愛爾蘭): [7 February 1879]
Father George Byrne
Father George Byrne, S.J., the first Regional Superior of the Hong Kong Jesuits and for many years one of the best Known priests in Hong Kong, died in Ireland on Thursday, 4 January 1962, aged 83.
Father Byrne arrived in Hong Kong from Ireland, with one other Jesuit Father, on 2 December 1926, and at once started to look for work, both for himself and for the Jesuits who would soon follow him to Hong Kong. He found abundant work for both. Within a decade, though always very short of men, he had staffed the Regional Seminary, Aberdeen, built and opened Ricci hall, a Catholic hostel for students in the University of Hong Kong, taken over Wah Yan College from its founders, restarted as a monthly the Hong Kong Catholic review, The Rock, which had ceased publication shortly before his arrival, and provided for a time Jesuit teachers for Sacred Heart College, Canton.
These were the works he did through others. His own personal work was infinitely varied, as might have been expected from one of his many-sided character - at once scholarly and practical. At the time of his ordination he had been informed that he was destined a specialist’s life as a professor of theology. This plan was later changed and for the rest of his life he was to be, not a specialist, but one ready for anything. Nevertheless he retained some of the marks of the savant.
He was always a voracious reader, able to pour out an astonishing variety of information on almost any subject at a moment’s notice in English, French, or Latin. This gift, joined to a strong personality, a commanding appearance, and a powerful and very flexible voice, made him an admirable public speaker, whether in the pulpit, at retreats and conferences, at meetings of societies and associations, or in the lecturer’s chair in the University of Hong Kong. Where he readily deputized during the furloughs of the professors of education and of history. As a broadcaster, he had the rare gift of being able to project his personality across the ether and so hold the attention of his unseen audience.
As a writer, and he wrote much, he was primarily a discursive essayist, a member of a literary tribe that seems to have disappeared during World War II. His monthly articles in The Rock and the weekly column that he contributed for years to the South China Morning Post under the title ‘The Student’s Window’ might be in turn grimly earnest, genially informative, and gaily trivial, but they were always written in urbane and rhythmic English that carried the reader unprotestingly to the last full stop.
Despite these numerous public activities, he was probably best known as an adviser. During the many years he spent in Ricci Hall, he was always at home to the great numbers of people of all kinds - lay and cleric, Catholic and non-Catholic, men and women, young and old - who came seeking the solution of intellectual, religious, or personal problems from one who they knew would be both wise and kind.
Father Byrne was in Hong Kong in the early days of the war and displayed remarkable courage and physical energy in defending Ricci Hall against a band of marauders. By this time he was no longer superior, and he was already over 60. He went, therefore, to Dalat, Vietnam, where he spent the rest of the war years, Soon after the war, he went to Ireland for medical treatment and, though still capable of a hard day’s work, was advised on medical grounds that he must not return to the Far East.
This was a blow, but he did not repine. He retained his interest in and affection for Hong Kong, but he quickly set about finding an abundance of work in Ireland. Once again he found it. Not long after his arrival the director of retreats in Ireland was heard to say that if he could cut Father George Byrne in four and sent each part to give a retreat, he would still be unable to satisfy all the convents that were clamouring for him.
He still wrote and he still lectured and he still gave advice. Only very gradually did he allow advancing old age to cut down his work. As he had always wished, he worked to the end.
Requiem Mass for the
repose of his soul was celebrated in Ricci Hall chapel by the warden Father R.
Harris, S.J., on Monday, 8 January. In the congregation that filled the chapel,
in addition to his fellow Jesuits, there were many who still remember Father
Byrne even in the city of short memories. Those present included Father A.
Granelli, P.I.M.E., P.P., representing His Lordship the Bishop; Bishop Donahy,
M.M., Father McKiernan M.M, Father B. Tohill, S.D.B., Provincial, Father
Vircondalet, M.E.M., Brother Felix, F.S.C., Father P. O’Connor, S.S.C.,
representative groups of Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres of the Maryknoll
Sisters, of the Colomban Sisters, and many others. The Mass was served by Dr.
12 January 1962
◆ RICCI Souvenir Record of the Silver Jubilee of Ricci Hall Hong Kong University 1929-1954
◆ Biographical Notes of the Jesuits in Hong Kong 1926-2000, by Frederick Hok-ming Cheung PhD, Wonder Press Company 2013.
◆ 先賢錄－－香港天主教神職及男女修會會士 (1841-2016), 天主教香港教區檔案處, 2016.
◆ 一九二六年至二零一六年在香港的耶穌會會士影像回憶, 紀歷有限公司, 2016.