Born: 30 December 1889, Cork City, County Cork
Entered: 07 September 1907, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 15 August 1922, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1926, Mungret College SJ, Limerick
Died: 04 February 1971, Canossa Hospital, Hong Kong - Hong Kong Province (HK)
Part of the Wah Yan College, Hong Kong community at the time of death
Transcribed HIB to HK : 03 December 1966
Mission Superior of the Irish Mission to Hong Kong 1947-1950
by 1912 at Cividale del Friuli, Udine Italy (VEN) studying
by 1925 at Paray-le-Monial France (LUGD) making Tertianship
by 1934 at Catholic Mission, Ngau-Pei-Lan, Shiuhing (Zhaoqing), Guandong, China (LUS) Regency
by 1935 at Wah Yan, Hong Kong - working
◆ Hong Kong Catholic Archives :
Death of Father T.F. Ryan, S.J.
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 organisation, 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 organised 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 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 Organisation. The middlemen put up a fight but the WVMO won.
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.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 12 February 1971
◆ Jesuits under Fire - In the siege of Hong Kong 1941, by Thomas F. Ryan, S.J., London and Dublin Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd, 1945.
◆ The Story of a Hundred Years, by Thomas F. Ryan, S.J., Catholic Truth Society Hong Kong, 1959.
◆ Catholic Guide to Hong Kong, by Thomas F. Ryan, S.J., Catholic Truth Society Hong Kong, 1962.
◆ Biographical Notes of the Jesuits in Hong Kong 1926-2000, by Frederick Hok-ming Cheung PhD, Wonder Press Company 2013 ISBN 978 9881223814 :
He entered the Society in Ireland having won a gold medal in national public examinations. As a young Jesuit he spent many years in Europe developing his lifelong knowledge and love for art, music and literature, which made him a man of culture and refinement. He did a Masters at UCD, and taught for six years of Regency before being Ordained a priest in1922. He taught at Belvedere College SJ and was also on the editorial staff of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart. He had a great interest in many welfare projects with the plight of Dublin’s poorest people, slum dwellers, and in particular their children. He founded the Belvedere Newsboys Club for street kids and also the Housing Association to provide cheap flats for their parents. He was on the bench of the Juvenile Courts, and during his time visited every remand home, reformatory and institute of detention in Ireland. He was a member of the Playground Association and on the Committee of the Industrial Development Association.
He was sent to Hong Kong in 1933. He first went to Siu Hing (Canton) to learn Cantonese and then returned to teach at Wah Yan Hong Kong. He became editor of the “Rock” monthly magazine from 1935-1941. Here his vigorous personality expressed strong convictions on social problems and abuses in Hong Kong.He championed the Franco cause for which he received a decoration from the Spanish government. at the same time he was giving interesting and stimulating talks on English novelists, poets and dramatists, along with talks on art, music and painting. he preached regularly over “ZBW” - the predecessor of RTHK. Every aspect of Hong Kong life interested him. He worked for the underprivileged. He encouraged the “Shoe Shiners Club”, which later blossomed into the “Boys and Girls Clubs Association” under Joseph Howatson. With the Anglican Bishop, Ronald Otto Hall, he founded the HK Housing Society in 1938. It was refounded in 1950 to build low cost housing on land given by the Hong Kong government at favourable rates. The rents received were used to repay loans from the government within 40 years. In 1981, the “Ryan Building” (Lak Yan Lau), a 22 storey building in the Western District was named after him. It had a ground floor for shops, offices and a children’s playground on the second floor. The other floors contained 100 flats. He was a founding member of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee, a member of the Board of Education, Religious advisory Committee on Broadcasting and the City Hall Committee, and belonged to many other civic groups.
During the Japanese occupation he was not sought out by the authorities - even tough he had castigated that Japanese Military for their inhuman conduct in China. He got each Jesuit to write up their experience of the 19 days of siege under the Japanese, and this collection was later published as “Jesuits under Fire”.
In 1942 with Fr Harold Craig - who had come with him in 1933 - he went to Kwelin (Yunan) in mainland China, staying with Mgr Romaniello. He made analyses for the British Consulate and French Newspapers in Hanoi, and he worked at night with translators to make out trends of opinions in the Chinese press. With the Japanese advances in 1944, he went to Chungking where he was active in refugee work. He had good relations with the Allied Armies and their diplomatic missions, and was widely known through his radio broadcasts, which were heard far and wise, on music and literature. He was asked by Mr McDoal - a high ranking official in the Hong Kong government - to help rehabilitate Hong Kong with his drive and efficiency. He was appointed “Acting Superintendent of Agriculture, and so he set about reforesting eh hills which had been laid bare by people looking for fuel during the occupation. He had trees planted along the circular road of the New territories. Many of the trees in the Botanical Gardens were planned by him, with seeds brought from Australia. Seeing the plight of vegetable growers fall into the hands of middlemen, in 1946 he started the Wholesale Vegetable Marketing Organisation. There was retaliation from the middlemen, but they ultimately lost. With the return of permanent Government staff to Hong Kong, he returned to Ireland for a rest, and he returned as Mission Superior in 1947. With his customary energy, he set about buying land to start building Wah Yan Canton. He sent young Jesuits to work on social activities there - Patrick McGovern and Kevin O’Dwyer. He also negotiated the land and finance for the new Wah Yan Hong Kong and one in Kowloon.
He was active in setting up the new City Hall on Hong Kong Island in 1960. He was very active on radio work, in Western music and English poetry. His part in the Housing Society in some way was the cause for the government’s resettlement scheme. He was the most famous Jesuit in Hong Kong in those days, and probably one of the most dynamic Jesuits ever.
After completing his term as Mission Superior in 1850, he returned to teaching at Wah Yan Hong Kong, a work he considered to be the highest form of Jesuit activity. Here he was most successful. Most of his closest Chinese friends were his past students. He was also a close friend of Governor Alexander Grantham, a regular music critic for the South China Morning Post, and frequently wrote the programme notes for concerts and recitals by visiting musicians and orchestras.
In 1941 he published “Jesuits under Fire”. He edited “Archaeological Finds on Lamma Island”, the work of Daniel Finn. He also edited “China through Catholic Eyes”, “One Hundred Years” - a celebration of the HK diocese, “Jesuits in China” and “Catholic Guide to Hong Kong” - a history of the parishes up to 1960.
At the age of 60 he decided to retire and he withdrew from committees. His last public appearance was to receive an Honorary D Litt from the University of Hong Kong in recognition of his social, musical and literary contribution.
With dynamic character and strong convictions, he was impatient with inefficient or bureaucracy in dealing with human problems. Behind his serious appearance was shyness, deep humility and a kindness which endeared him to all. A man of great moral courage and high principles, he had a highly cultivated mind, with particular affection for the poor and needy. He looked forward to young people breaking new ground for the greater glory of God.
Social Work in Hong Kong
The development of a social conscience in Hong Kong was due in large measure to the work of Bishop Hall, the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong and Macau, and Thomas Ryan. The Hong Kong Housing Association - a pioneer of organised low cost housing in Hong Kong - was the work of these too men as well. When Canton fell to the Japanese in 1938, and refugees began to pour into Hong Kong, the task of housing these people fell largely to a Committee of which Bishop Hall and Thomas were the leading spirits, and their executive work in providing food and shelter fell chiefly to Thomas. After the War there was a serious shortage of administrators needed to restart the shattered life of Hong Kong. The Colonial Secretary asked him to take over responsibility for Botany and Forestry and to help setting up a Department of Agriculture.
According to Alfred Deignan : “Thomas Ryan came to Hong Kong in 1933. At that time there was no Welfare Department and very few voluntary agencies of associations.... He was instrumental in setting up the HK Council of Social Service. In 1938 refugees poured into Hong Kong and he and Bishop Hall were the two priest leading the organisation of provision of food and shelter for the refugees.
Note from Paddy Joy Entry
According to Fr Thomas Ryan, Fr Joy’s outstanding qualities were “devotion to his task and solid common sense........ He probably was the Irish Province’s greatest gift to the Hong Kong Mission.”
Note from Tommy Martin Entry
He first arrived as a Scholastic for Regency in Hong Kong in 1933. He was accompanied by Frs Jack O’Meara and Thomas Ryan, and by two other Scholastics, John Foley and Dick Kennedy.
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 8th Year No 4 1933
Belvedere College -
All those bound for Hong Kong and Australia left Ireland early in August. Father T. Ryan, who had been working for a considerable time among the poor of Dublin, had a big send-
off. The following account is taken from the Independent :
Rev. Thomas Ryan, S.J., who was the friend of Dublin newsboys and all tenement dwellers in Dublin, left the city last night for the China Mission. His departure was made the occasion for a remarkable demonstration of regret by the people amongst whom he had ministered for many years. For more than an hour before Father Ryan left Belvedere College, crowds assembled in the vicinity of that famous scholastic institution, hoping to get a last glimpse of the priest whom they had known and loved so long. A procession was formed, headed by St. Mary's Catholic Pipers' Band, and passed through Waterford St., Corporation St., and Lr. Gardiner St, to the North Wall. Catholic Boy Scouts (55 Dublin Troop), under Scoutmaster James O'Toole and District Secretary James Cassin, formed a Guard of Honour at the quayside and saluted Father Ryan as he stepped out of the motor car which followed the procession and went aboard the S.S. Lady Leinster. The scene at the quayside was one of the most remarkable witnessed for many years. Crowds surged around the gangway - many women with children in their arms -and, as the popular missionary made his way aboard, cried “God bless you, Father Ryan”. Father Ryan had to shake hands with scores of people before he was permitted to ascend the gangway, and hundreds of others lined the docks as far as Alexandra Basin to wave him farewell and cheer him on his departure. Among those who bade farewell to Father Ryan at the quayside were many of the priests from Belvedere College and members of the College Union.
Irish Province News 19th Year No 3 1944
“Jesuits Under Fire in the Siege of Hong Kong”, by Fr. Thomas Ryan, appeared from the Publisher, Burns Oates & Washbourne (London and Dublin, 10/6), in the last week of April. The book has received very favourable comment and is selling well. A review of it was broadcast from Radio Eireann on 29th May, by A. de Blacam. After a touching reference to the author, the reviewer went on as follows :
“These soldiers of the spirit (the Jesuit acquaintances of A. de Blacam posted in the midst of the conflict) were at their place of service. We could not regret that it was theirs to stand in momentary peril of death, ministering to the sufferers, Christians and pagans, men and women of many races and of both sides in the battle, and cannot regret that Fr. Tom was there, to compile the heroic story, as he has done so well in - Jesuits Under Fire. This must be one of the very best books that the war has brought forth, It concerns one of the most fierce and, in a way, most critical of the war's events; and it gains in interest, pathos, vividness and value by its detached authorship. A combatant hardly could write impartially. The non-combatant, by nationality a neutral, he can tell the story with the historic spirit, and as a priest with sacred compassion. To this, little need be added. Read the book; it cannot be summarised, and it calls for no criticism. Read of the physical horror of bombardment, and of the anguish of souls; the violence that spares not, because it cannot spare, age, sex or calling, in the havoc. Read of the priests’ work of healing and comfort, under fire of Fr. Gallagher moving a few yards by chance, or by divine Providence, from a spot in the building which immediately after received a direct hit-of the family Rosary that we had known long ago in our homes in Ireland, said in the shattered library, between the shellings, and Fr. Bourke sitting in the ruins to note down the marriages and baptisms of the day.”
The book should do valuable propaganda work for our Mission and awaken vocations to the Society. Presentation copies were sent to the relatives of all of Ours present in Hong Kong during the siege. Cardinal MacRory and the Bishops of the dioceses in Ireland where we have houses were sent copies of a limited edition de luxe. A few dates connected with the MS and its publication may be of interest. Rev. Fr. Provincial received the typescript from Free China on 15th January, 1943. Extra copies of the work had first to be typed, so that, in these the original perished for any reason, copies might be available. When the work of censoring had been completed, it remained to find a publisher. This was effected in August, 1943, when Burns Oates & Washbourne agreed to publish it, and the contract was signed by Fr. Provincial and Christopher Hollis (on behalf of the Company), on 20th September, 1943. Owing to unavoidable delays in the work of printing, it did not appear till 28th April, 1944. One benefit accruing from the delays attending the printing was that in the meantime much better paper was available than had originally been chosen.
Irish Province News 46th Year No 2 1971
Fr Thomas F Ryan SJ
Father Tommy Ryan died at Canossa Hospital, Hong Kong, on the evening of 4th February, aged 81. Early in January he had scalded a foot in a simple accident in his room, and went to hospital for treatment. He returned to Wah Yan for a few days in the middle of the month, and then (very untypical of him) asked to be brought back to hospital. After a heart complication towards the end of the month his condition gradually weakened and he entered a coma in which he finally died peacefully. He was laid to rest in the Happy Valley cemetery after a funeral Mass in St. Margaret's church on Saturday morning, 6th February. He had outlived many of his numerous friends and admirers in Hong Kong, and his long retirement had taken him out of public prominence, although to the end he had maintained contact with a wide circle of friends who appreciated his kind and courteous thoughtfulness. His advice too was gratefully sought by a number of people, for he retained an amazingly wide knowledge of Hong Kong affairs. Such was his reputation in government circles and among retired British civil servants and administrators that the current British Common Market negotiator, Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, called on “T.F.” during an official visit to Hong Kong last year. But the warmest letters of sympathy and remembrance which followed his death came from very ordinary people, notably from men who'd known him in his work in Dublin and in the early days of the Belvedere News boys' Club,
Fr Ryan was born in Cork, Ireland, on 30th December 1889, and entered the Society after completing his secondary education at Presentation College. During his studies he spent many years on the continent of Europe, and travelled widely as he had also done before entering, developing a life-long knowledge and love of art, music and literature which made him a man of culture and refinement. He obtained an M.A. degree from the National University of Ireland, taught the then usual 6 years of regency in Ireland, and was ordained in Dublin in 1922. After a further year in Italy, he was assigned to Belvedere College and the editorial staff of the Messenger of the Sacred Heart.
In addition to his teaching and writing, Fr Ryan immediately took a great interest in many welfare projects; he interested him self in the plight of Dublin's poorest people, slum dwellers, down and-outs and in particular their children. He helped found the Belvedere Newsboys Club for the street kids, and the Housing Society to provide decent cheap flats for their parents. For five years he sat on the bench of the Juvenile Court and during his time visited every Remand Home, Reformatory and institute or detention in Ireland; he was also a member of the Playground Association, and of the committee of the Industrial Development Association.
Fr Ryan had asked to be sent to Hong Kong as soon as the Mission was first mooted, but was not sent until 1933 after a T.D.'s quotation of him in Dail Eireann had raised some episcopal eyebrows. His departure from Dublin was an occasion in the city, a Royal send-off in which the newsboys of the city and their parents accompanied him to the boat, crowded the dockside and shouted themselves hoarse as his boat pulled away; “a demonstration of regret at the loss of the friends of Dublin newsboys and all tenement dwellers in Dublin”. After arriving in Hong Kong that autumn, Fr. Ryan went to Shiu Hing near Canton to study Chinese for a year, and then returned to teach at Wah Yan College in Robinson Road. He became editor of the Rock, a monthly periodical which made a mark in its time and is still remembered today. Fr Ryan's vigorous personality was apparent from the first issue he produced, and he continued as editor until the outbreak of war in 1941 and the occupation of Hong Kong ended its publication. The Rock was a vehicle for Fr Ryan's strongly-felt convictions on the social problems of Hong Kong and the abuses which he felt existed in the colony; he also, alone in Hong Kong, championed the Franco cause in the Spanish civil war, and later received a decoration from the Spanish government in recognition of his writings in those years. At the same time he was also becoming known as a radio personality, giving regular series of interesting and stimulating talks on English novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, and on art and music, painters and composers. And he preached regularly on the air, over ZBW the predecessor of modern Radio Hong Kong.
Every facet of life in Hong Kong always interested him, and besides writing and talking he devoted much of his time to working for the under-privileged and people in need. At Wah Yan, he encouraged the founding of a Shoeshiners Club (on the pattern of the Belvedere Newsboys Club) which later blossomed into the present Boys and Girls' Clubs' Association; with the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong and Macao, the Rt Rev R O Hall, he founded the Hong Kong Housing Society, the local pioneer in the fields of low-cost housing and housing management - the Society still has a Jesuit member on its committee and has been responsible for housing well over 100,000 people in about 20,000 flats in more than 14 estates, and he was involved with refugee and relief work before, during and after the Pacific War, beginning in 1938 when many thousands of people fled to Hong Kong in the wake of the Japanese invasion of South China - he recruited senior boys in the college to help, and was chairman of the War Relief Committee when the Japanese attacked Hong Kong in December 1941. In his later active years, Fr Ryan was a founder member of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, a member of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee, of the Board of Education, of the Religious Advisory Committee on Broadcasting, of the City Hall Committee and several others.
In the Rock, Fr Ryan had frequently castigated the Japanese military for their inhuman conduct in China, and consequently was no keener on meeting them than anyone else when they captured Hong Kong. During the siege, he offered his services for any humanitarian work, and spent the early days assisting the administrative staff at Queen Mary Hospital, taking charge later on of the distribution of rice in the Central district where he narrowly escaped death during an air raid one morning. In the first weeks after the surrender, Fr Ryan got all of the Jesuits in Hong Kong to write their experiences of the 18 days of siege, which he later edited and had published as Jesuits Under Fire. Despite his forebodings, however, the Japanese did not seek him out, so he began to make arrangements to go into China. With Fr Harold Craig, who'd also arrived with him in 1933, he left Hong Kong on 17th May, 1942 for the tiny French settlement in Kwangchauwan, and arrived at Kweilin, Kwangsi, on 10th June. There he stayed with Msgr Romaniello and began getting in touch with the many Hong Kong Catholics passing through Kweilin. He helped many spiritually, and found employment for others, often with the allied forces as interpreters. For the British consulate in Kweilin, he made analyses of the French newspapers from Hanoi, and after HQ in Delhi read these he was working every night with a battery of translators making out the trends of opinion from the Chinese press. Life in war-time Kweilin could be hectic; like many cities in China at that time, quite often the city was deserted during the day as people went out to the caves in the nearby mountains when warnings of air-raids were given, returning at evening when normal city life began again and went on till the early hours of the morning. In mid 1944 Kweilin had to be abandoned before a Japanese advance towards Indochina, and Fr Ryan was brought by the British consulate party to Kweiyang where at first he stayed with the bishop. Recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia and convalescing with Fr Pat Grogan at the minor seminary a few miles out in the hills from the city, the question for Fr Ryan was where to move to next. The superior in Hong Kong, Fr Joy, had earlier decided against Fr Ryan going to Chungking; but the superior of the 'dispersi' in China, Fr Donnelly, decided that with the change of time and circumstances the prohibition no longer held. Fr Ryan agreed but declared that if it had been left to himself he would not go to Chungking Nevertheless he began to prepare for the journey north. He had been warned that Chungking was a hilly place without transport, so he practised climbing the hills around the minor seminary at Sze-tse-pa with Fr Grogan just to see if his heart was really equal to Chungking. Having decided that he had nothing to fear he started on the 3-day trip by military lorry to the war-time capital. There, with a Dominican friend from Kweilin, he ran an English-speaking church, St. Joseph's, and became active in refugee work, keeping up his good relations with the allied armies and their diplomatic missions. He was also involved in cultural activities in Chungking, and did a regular series of broadcasts on music and literature which were heard and appreciated by people as far apart as Burma and the southern Philippines. His knowledge of Hong Kong problems so impressed the British ambassador that he wanted Fr Ryan to fly to London to confer with the government there about Hong Kong; the ending of the war, however, changed the plans to Fr Ryan's great relief, and he was free to prepare to go back to Hong Kong,
At the end of the war in 1945 when British forces reoccupied Hong Kong, the then Colonial Secretary, Mr. McDougal who had known Fr Ryan in Chungking and admired his drive and efficiency, invited him to come to Hong Kong and give his services to the rehabilitation of the colony. Fr Ryan accepted, a plane was put as his disposal, and soon he found himself in the unusual position for a Jesuit of being a member of his Majesty's government in Hong Kong. He was appointed Acting Superintendent of Agriculture, and helped to set up the Department of Agriculture in 1946. Re-afforestation was one of the important problems on his desk, since the colony had been greatly denuded of trees during the occupation years. New methods of raising seedlings were introduced, red-tape circumvented in unorthodox ways in bringing in plants and seeds from Australia, many of the present trees and shrubs in the Botanical Gardens were planted (and Fr Ryan took a personal interest in the gardeners' welfare as well), large areas of the New Territories sown, and roadside trees planted along many thoroughfares. Another problem was the plight of the vegetable growers who were being exploited by middlemen; the farmers were getting very poor prices for their produce while consumers had to pay high prices. In 1946 the Wholesale Vegetable Marketing Organisation was set up to counteract the middlemen, who retaliated with a strong fight leading to some ugly incidents in the New Territories; eventually, however, the W.V.M.O. won out.
Early in 1947, with the return of the permanent members of the government, Fr Ryan was able to relinquish his official work and return to Ireland for a much needed rest. But he was a man who never believed in taking a rest, and by August of that year had returned to Hong Kong, having been appointed Regional Superior of the Mission in Hong Kong and Canton. In his new office he exercised his customary energy and vigour, made plans for educational developments in Canton, selected men to be sent abroad for specialised work in social and educational problems, and began plans for the building of the two new Wah Yan Colleges whose choice sites he was responsible for obtaining. His belief that the communists would never take Canton and the south was perhaps his most notable failure of judgement. On ceasing to be Superior in 1950 he returned eagerly to the classroom, a work he believed to be one of the highest forms of Jesuit activity and one in which he himself was very successful, most of his closest Chinese friends being former pupils of his; he always had a great interest and memory for boys he had taught. He also devoted much of his time and talents at this period to promoting social service and cultural activities, being associated with or actively engaged in almost every government committee concerned with the poor and underprivileged, as well as a personal friend and confidant of the Governor, Sir Alexander Grantham. He became the regular music critic of the South China Morning Post and frequently wrote the programme notes for concerts and recitals by visiting musicians and orchestras, as well as continuing to broadcast regularly about music, and give lectures. Literature (which he taught at Wah Yan), art and old Hong Kong were among his regular topics in speech and writing, and he was a contributor to the Jesuit monthly Outlook. He published Fr Dan Finn's Archeological Finds on Lamma Island and wrote a number of books over the years: China through Catholic Eyes, Ricci, One Hundred Years (the centenary of the diocese of HK), Jesuits in China, A Catholic Guide to Hong Kong he had visited every outlying parish, and at one time knew every street and backstreet of Hong Kong and Kowloon like the back of his hand.
At the age of 60, Fr Ryan characteristically decided that it was time for him to withdraw from many of the committees of which he was a member, to make way for younger people. However, he still continued to take an active interest in all his old activities and was frequently called upon for advice and help, by people of every class and nationality. He continued working and teaching for several more years, even after a severe heart attack in 1957 greatly curtailed his activities; ill-health finally forced him to retire in the early '60s, though his mind and brain remained as clear and acute as ever. His last public appearance was at the University of Hong Kong in 1966 when an Honorary Degree, D Litt., was conferred on him in recognition of his social, musical and literary work. In recent years, deteriorating health confined him to the house entirely, apart from occasional spells in hospital. Nevertheless he continued to receive a number of regular visitors whenever he felt up to it, and remained interested and well-informed on everything happening in Hong Kong, particularly in social questions, cultural activities and in government, as well as in the Society at large and in the activities of all the members of the province especially the scholastics, Jesuit visitors to the house, and our own men returning, from abroad, were usually subjected to his detailed questioning which revealed an already wide acquaintance with the topics he wanted more information about. With his knowledge and contacts, the advice and encouragement he readily gave to anyone, especially people concerned in social action, was invaluable,
A man of dynamic character and strong convictions, Fr Ryan had little patience with inefficiency, slovenliness, red tape or bureaucratic methods of dealing with human problems. Behind a somewhat serious appearance and sometimes brusque manner there was a shyness, a deep humility and a kindliness which endeared him to all who knew him well. He was a man of great moral courage and high principles, with a highly cultivated mind and a very particular affection for the poor and the needy; and, as many of his former pupils and others can testify, he was a genuine friend when one was needed. Though familiarly known to his colleagues as T.F. or Tommy, it was a familiarity one did not risk in his presence; perhaps his brethren were too cowed by his known force fulness and forthrightness and by the esteem and honour in which he was held; less inhibited outsiders spoke to him in a way no member of his community dared. Of course he had his foibles and pet hates; his extreme reticence and his ruthlessness in destroying most of his papers and writings have meant that much of the story of his life can never be told - from his occasional reminiscences, he clearly had a wealth of experiences and interests which would : have made a fascinating commentary on Dublin in the '20s, the recent history of Hong Kong and almost the whole history of the Society in this part of the world. Fr Tommy Ryan was undoubtedly one of the giants of this and of the Irish Province; his name and achievements deserve remembrance and gratitude beyond the circle of those who now miss his presence with us ... but his own preference was for obscurity, that he should not be a burden to anyone, and that younger people should break new ground, for the greater glory of God.
May he rest in peace.