Born: 01 October 1926, Ardmore, County Waterford
Entered: 11 November 1944, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 31 July 1958, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1962, St. Ignatius Chapel, Wah Yan College Kowloon
Died: 13 April 2020, Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin - Sinensis Province (CHN)
Part of the Milltown Park community at the time of death
Younger brother of Michael - RIP 2011
Transcribed HIB to HK : 03 December 1966
by 1952 at Hong Kong - Regency studying language
by 1954 at Way Yan, Kowloon, Hong Kong - Regency
by 1960 at Cheung Chau Hong Kong - studying and teaching
by 1972 at Manila, Philippines (PHI) Studying
by 1973 at Wah Yan, Kowloon (HK) Novice Master
by 2014 at Milltown, Dublin (HIB) Pastoral work
◆ Hong Kong Catholic Archives :
Today, Sri Lankan-born Basil Fernando plies his legal trade in exile from the offices of the Hong Kong-based human rights watchdog, the Asian Human Rights Commission, in bustling Mong Kok. Chatting with the Sunday Examiner he reminisced about what he terms his “conversion,’’ which is manifest in his long dedication to the difficult and frustrating grind of fighting for human rights among some of the most abused people in the world.
In a time when few giants walk upon the earth, Fernando points to Jesuit Father James Hurley as one who towered head and shoulders above others who influenced his determination to spend his life working for the dignity of people. “I first met Father Hurley in 1969,’’ he said matter-of-factly, “when I was a university student and came as a delegate from my homeland (Sri Lanka) to a conference organised by Pax Romana in Hong Kong.”
Fernando explains it was a time when the excitement of Vatican II still electrified the air and Church reform was an integral part of the discussion. “I suppose we had some radical views,” he noted, “and we were often heavily criticised at home.”
But Fernando says that something solidified inside him when he came into contact with Father Hurley at that conference. “I found that whenever I opened my mouth in front of Father Hurley and the representatives from Hong Kong, I received an immediate, sympathetic and encouraging response,” he recounted.
“This left a lasting impression on me,” he reminisced, “for me this was the first time in my life I had experienced a climate that encouraged freedom of expression and respect for the opinions of individuals, and especially young people.”
Fernando recounted that the meeting selected me as one of the two young people to represent Asia at the first ever Asia-wide bishops’ conference, which was attended by Pope Paul VI and held in Manila the following year. Father Hurley accompanied me and Peter Wong to the meeting, which came at a volatile time in the life of The Philippines.
He noted, “There were fears martial law was going to be declared and we met students in the streets who were highly critical of the Church.”
Fernando related how he saw a demonstration of students holding placards and chanting, “Viva il papa (Long live the pope) and down with Santos” (the archbishop of Manila). He said there were discussions on “how we were going to respond and a short resolution entitled, The Bishops of Asia, was drafted as we thought the bishops had spoken well on the meeting floor, but feared their words may be drowned if not translated into action to identify with the poor.”
Fernando told of how the statement was read out in the inaugural broadcast of Radio Veritas, on the day it was opened and blessed by the pope. “We distributed pamphlets while it was being broadcast,” he explained, “and had the privilege of giving one to the pope. We were picked up by Reuters and made the worldwide news as well.” He remembers with a chuckle that “we were the centre of attention and full of the enthusiasm of youth.”
Fernando said what he really learned to appreciate in Father Hurley was that “he did not obstruct, push orthodoxy or try to warn us. He knew we were speaking our convictions and, as chaplain, encouraged us. I think he himself was touched by the reform of the times.”
Fernando said he kept contact with the Irish priest and he came to Sri Lanka during the middle of what was a difficult and repressive time. “There were insurrections in which 10,000 young people were killed,” he said. “As a young lawyer I had to leave my country in 1989 and I came to Hong Kong. I did not write to Father Hurley, I just came, and we have been close friends since, even during the time I was away in Cambodia.”
The barrister said, “Father Hurley kept encouraging me in my human rights work, encouraging and participating.”
Fernando said that when a Jesuit priest was in trouble in India they all went to bat for him, as we did during the time when the Sri Lankan Father Tissa Balasuriya was excommunicated, until his reinstatement. “Father Hurley never condemned,” he said, “he simply encouraged us to follow our convictions.”
Fernando said that the Church still has a long way to go in the implementation of Vatican II, but his youth was a time that inspired real conversion and brought people to a faith that is described by the theologian, Father Hans Küng, as something that many people did not come to understand, but did create a new generation, which will not easily give up in the face of pressure.
Fernando said that “we learned to go beyond the formal into the substance. We learned from the Anglican Bishop (John A.T.) Robinson, who said ‘to live our relationships as if there is no God,’ in other words, ‘play responsibility in a serious way’.”
He said that the Second Vatican Council brought about a tremendous internal conversion. “I was converted, even at my age and in spite of my limitations. I respect Father Hurley,” he went on, “as someone who understands. One of my mentors was a Dutch priest, Father Henk Schram, he came to Sri Lanka as a worker-priest. He was known to Father Hurley (who was a worker-priest in Hong Kong). He introduced us to the theology long before Vatican II happened.”
Fernando said that many people have stood with him as he has learned to live a life of defiance, defiance of what is corrupt, and he has always been supported by Father Hurley, in his eyes, a giant walking on the earth.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 14 October 2007
Priest of the young and the worker calls it a day
Father James Hurley sj has decided to call it a day in Hong Kong. Just 62 years after he took his first steps on the island soil he took a plane back to his native Ireland at the end of October on a one-way ticket.
However, he did not leave with his presence unacknowledged, as his memory lives on in the hearts of those who were young when he was part of the Pax Romana Chapter in the late 1960s, as well as in his fellow workers at a clothing factory where he stood at the table cutting cloth each day, and the members of the Apostleship of Prayer, of which he was chaplain for many years.
Father Hurley has decided to call it a day in Hong Kong and return to his native Ireland, where he believes that he can still contribute to people’s lives, but at a slower pace and in a more sedate manner, befitting his age.
He left Hong Kong for Mill Town, the Jesuit house of study and prayer, where he hopes he can serve out his days as a spiritual director to working people.
As a man who cut the cloth in Hong Kong factories he is well equipped to guide those who work for their living, as Basil Fernando, the former director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, says, “He introduced that theology long before even Vatican II happened.”
Fernando recalls that he first met Father Hurley when he came to Hong Kong as a young representative of the Sri Lankan Church in 1969 as part of Pax Romana.
He describes him as a breath of fresh air. Coming from a strictly authoritarian Church in Colombo, Fernando says that Father Hurley surprised him.
“He did not obstruct, push orthodoxy or try to warn us. He knew we were speaking our convictions and, as chaplain, encouraged us,” he recalls.
Speaking to the Sunday Examiner in 2007, Fernando said, “I suppose we had some radical views and we were often heavily criticised at home, but I found that whenever I opened my mouth in front of Father Hurley, I received an immediate, sympathetic and encouraging response.”
Fernando reminisced, “This left a lasting impression on me. For me, this was the first time in my life I had experienced a climate that encouraged freedom of expression and respect for the opinions of individuals, and especially young people.”
Fernando regards Father Hurley as a giant among men, but today the once strident figure moves more slowly and is seeking a life style more in keeping with his ageing body.
As a man dedicated to justice, Father Hurley was also a long time member and past president of the Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples. He spent his life fighting for what he regarded as the basic rights that should be attributed to each and every individual.
Father Hurley says that he leaves Hong Kong with no regrets and hopes he will find a fulfilling role to play in his native Ireland.
As the prayers of many hearts go with him and the best wishes of many people to whom he brought hope and courage in their lives are with him as well, the Sunday Examiner wishes Father Hurley ad multos annos.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 23 November 2014
Final farewell to Father James Hurley SJ
Jesuit Missionary Father James Hurley, who served the Church in Hong Kong for over five decades, died on 13 April 2020, at Cherryfield Lodge, Dublin, Ireland. He was 93-years- old.
Father Hurley was born in Ireland on 1 October 1926. He was ordained to the priesthood on 31 July 1958 in Dublin and professed final vows on 2 February 1962 at St. Ignatius Chapel, Wah Yan College Kowloon, Hong Kong.
Father Hurley first came to Hong Kong as a scholastic in 1950 and lived in Cheung Chau doing his language studies.
After his ordination in Ireland, he returned to Hong Kong and worked in Chu Hai post-secondary college in Kowloon till 1969. He also became chaplain to the Hong Kong Federation of Post Secondary Students and became closely associated with the student movement in Hong Kong.
He was appointed the Master of the Novices for three years and later lived as a “Worker Priest” during which time he worked as an ordinary labourer in a garment factory for four to five months.
In 1978 he began his parish ministry in Christ the Worker Parish, Ngau Tau Kok, and served the parish till 1989. For the next four years he initiated an experimental parish for Basic Christian Communities in St. Vincent’s Parish in Wong Tai Sin. Later he also served in Star of the Sea Parish, Chai Wan from 1995 to 1998 before moving to the Jesuit Parish of St. Ignatius Church at Wah Yan College.
As his health deteriorated, he left Hong Kong for Ireland in 2014 (Sunday Examiner, 23 November 2014).
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 19 April 2020
Father James Hurley - A gem of a man
Jesuit Father James Hurley, a great man and a humanist, passed away on April 13. I had the privilege of associating with Father Hurley since 1970. He impressed me as a man who was very deeply concerned with individuals as well as on the great social issues of his time.
As a human being, he had the enormous capacity to listen to others, including people who were much younger than him.
I first met him when he was the students’ chaplain for university students at an organisation known as Pax Romana. I attended this meeting as a representative of the Catholic Students’ Federation of Sri Lanka. This meeting left an indelible mark in my memory.
What attracted me most was the tolerance with which students were received and the space that was made available to them to discuss and debate all kinds of very controversial issues.
At the time, the more burning issues amongst the Catholic students were related to the developments of the Second Vatican Council.
Father Hurley had a very ardent interest in the developments within the Church during this time. He had been associated with progressive theologians from Asia over a long period. He was aware of the controversies that were taking place all around Asia on the issues relating to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
At this pan-Asian conference in 1970, one of the main debates was related to a theme that was very familiar at the time: institutionless Christianity. Several theologians had written about this issue and the critique of institutional limitations to the spread of the message of the gospel was quite a common theme everywhere.
The conference encouraged the students to share their views and Father Hurley, in particular, followed these discussions after the meetings at the dinners.
Once Father Hurley knew somebody, he knew how to sustain a friendship over the years. A short time after this meeting, he was going for a vacation in Ireland and he stopped in Sri Lanka to meet me. He spent a few days there and talked to many people. Going out of his way to keep that sort of close connection was, I think, the way he thought of his duties as a priest.
At the time, he had the idea of being a worker-priest, which meant working at a factory just like any other worker. He wanted to know the life of the workers and the circumstances under which they lived, their difficulties as well as the richer side of them as human beings.
Sometime later he carried out this wish and spent a year or more working in a factory. Later, he would narrate some of his experiences in a very moving manner.
In 1989, 1 had to leave Sri Lanka and I chose to come to Hong Kong, mainly because I knew I had two friends there, Father Hurley and John Clancey, who I also got to know at the students’ meeting mentioned above.
By the time I arrived in Hong Kong, Father Hurley had already left for Ireland for his sabbatical year. However, as soon as he arrived back, he contacted me and, ever since, we had a long friendship.
I used to address him as Father Hurley and then he told me, “Just call me James.” That was his way. There was no trace of clericalism in him. You could discuss anything with him, including things that were happening in countries he had never been to.
For example, he had a keen interest in what happened to Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime, which followed the massive bombing of the country by the United States. He listened to the story of millions of deaths, inquiring a great deal about the details of the results of these times and how far things had improved (or not).
Naturally, one of the conversations we returned to many times was the situation in Sri Lanka itself. He already knew a lot about Sri Lanka because he had friends like, for example, Father Tissa Balasuriya OMI, who was the Asian chaplain for Catholic students. He also knew some bishops, particularly a priest, Father Michael Rodrigo, who was assassinated by the military while he was trying to protect young people in a remote rural area.
I have heard a lot from him about the Irish struggles for freedom. When he came to speak about the killings of some of the fighters whom he knew personally, there were occasions on which he became very emotional, and at least on one occasion, he cried. That was when I one day recorded an interview with him on the issue of the Irish people’s struggles against colonialism.
As he was narrating this story, he began to mention many names of people who he had known, admired and loved very deeply. At this point, he became emotionally very involved, and started to cry. That was the deep love with which he remembered his country, and also the real depth of his feelings about freedom. He was a person who was very committed to struggles for freedom wherever it happened.
One time, after he returned from Ireland after a holiday, he mentioned the use of rubber bullets by the Irish police. He was given one of those bullets by someone. He kept it to remember the kind of problems people are faced with. During his trips to Ireland, he visited people who were involved in these struggles, some of whom had gone to jail for a long time over these matters.
He had a deep love for Hong Kong and the struggle of the students happening at that time. He knew most of these students and told stories about them with affection and admiration.
He was a deeply spiritual man. He associated with the people and often said the rosary; with them when they came to discuss some of their problems with him. I particularly remember one instance when the mother of a convicted prisoner used to visit him on Sundays after the Mass. Father Hurley used to visit this man in the prison often and went out of his way to help the children to have their education despite of the fact that their father was in prison. He always spoke with a deep sense of affection for the prisoner, with that spirit of forgiveness that also made it possible for people to appreciate the good side of people even if they were convicted of crimes.
We used to meet often for lunch or dinner. During these times, he had the capacity to tell many stories, sometimes very humorous ones. He once talked about a Protestant in Ireland who used to be very virulent in his attacks against the Catholics. When this man was dying, he called a Catholic priest to come and admit “him to the Catholic faith. The priest arrived and, just out of curiosity, asked the man why, after being io strongly against them, why he wanted to become a Catholic at the moment of his death. The man replied, “Well, when I die, it will be one of them that died and not one of us.”
When recalling Father Hurley, one remembers that one was meeting at the same time a deeply human person with an enormously deep spirituality and a commitment to his religious beliefs, who was able to bring these into a relationship in the context of the modem world.
Most of the time, he was dressed in trousers and a shirt, and behaved like other people. This way, he befriended people without making them feel that the relationship was one that involved any kind of hierarchy.
He was a democrat to the core and a person who was committed to human rights absolutely.
He reminded me of a definition that a Dutch priest gave of priesthood: a priest is a person who gives gratuitously. Father Hurley certainly was such a priest.
Legacies such as that of Father Hurley will not be erased.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 26 April 2020
Memorial Mass for celebrated for Father James Hurley
The Justice and Peace Commission organised a memorial Mass on April 20 for Jesuit Father James Hurley, its former ecclesiastical advisor, who passed away on April 13 in Ireland, at the age of 93 (Sunday Examiner, April 19). He was confirmed to have contracted the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
The Mass, which was streamed live online, was concelebrated by Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun and Father Carlos Cheung Sam-yui.
The service began with a sharing from Martin Lee Chu-ming, former legal advisor of the commission. The lawyer and former democratic legislator spoke about incidents mentioned in Father Hurley’s book, Option for the Deprived, written in 2008.
Lee recounted the Irish missionary’s 50 years in Hong Kong since he first arrived in 1952 by boat-a journey which took 30 days. He said he was impressed by Father Hurley’s commitment to social justice, evidenced by the time he spent working in a factory to experience the life of the poor, as well as setting up Amnesty International in Hong Kong.
Lee said that he could find many similarities between Father Hurley’s life and his own. They were both inspired by Father Fergus Cronin in the fight for people’s rights.
In 1969, Father Hurley come to prominence for defending five students who were expelled by Chu Hai College for openly criticising the post-secondary school, where he had been a lecturer for eight years.
Lee recalled how Father Hurley sought clearance before attending a press conference to speak for the students and Father Cronin, the then-Jesuit superior in Hong Kong, told him: “Go James, attend! This is where you must be.” Father Hurley said he could not forget such a clear instruction and was grateful for the support.
Lee recalled that when he started in politics, he also visited Father Cronin, who was then seriously ill, and asked what he could do for the Church. Father Cronin told him to follow his conscience and do what he thought he should do.
A recorded message from humans right lawyer, John Clancey, a close friend of Father Hurley, was then played. Clancey recalled meeting the Jesuit priest in 1969 and since then they met every month for yum cha at different restaurants to talk about their work. He recalled that for several months in 1975, they met in hawker stalls near factories and had a good time with the labourers with whom Father Hurley worked.
He compared Father Hurley to; a saint and a prophet, as he had reflected the love of God to people and helped them to understand the principles of justice and peace. Clancey said Father Hurley often asked about people in Hong Kong after he had returned to Ireland.
He said that if Father Hurley were alive, he would tell him about the arrest of Lee, Albert Ho Chun- yan as well as a number of former pan-democrat legislators for their roles in alleged unlawful protests last year.
In his homily, Cardinal Zen said the memorial Mass should not be a sad occasion as Father Hurley had returned to heaven at Easter and this reminds us of our hope in eternal life.
The cardinal said that as the homily of a memorial Mass should focus on God instead of the life of the departed, he wanted to remind people of Father Hurley’s motto. “I imagine that Father Hurley would smilingly say a simple line... follow Jesus Christ, be a person with kindness and humility so that you can have a peaceful heart,” he said.
Cardinal Zen also expressed his sadness that the Covid-19 corona-virus had not stopped political suppression in Hong Kong.
He thanked God for sending the people of the city an example in the person of Father Hurley who showed how to seek justice and stand with the poor.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 3 May 2020
Jesuit Community offers Mass in memory of Father Hurley
A requiem Mass for Father James Hurley was organised by the Jesuit Community at St. Ignatius Chapel on June 8 and attended by around two hundred people.
Father Hurley passed away on April 13 in Ireland at the age of 93. He was confirmed to have contracted the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, Jesuit provincial of the China province, celebrated the memorial Mass. Father Chow said that while Father Hurley pursued social justice, he showed love for everyone and did not bear any hatred, which is one of the reasons why he touched the hearts of many people.
A woman, named Liu, said that she had known the priest since the 1980s when he served at Christ the Worker parish, Ngau Tau Kok. She remembered him as kind, leading a simple life to save money for the church and dedicated to fighting for the rights of parishioners.
Another former parishioner of Christ the Worker parish, Cheng, said Father Hurley treated parishioners with love as he would remember their names and pray for them.
Earlier, on April 20, the Justice and Peace Commission webcast a memorial Mass for Father Hurley, celebrated by Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun to mourn its former spiritual advisor (Sunday Examiner, May 3). The Jesuit community waited for the resumption of public Masses to ensure the participation of the friends and associates, whom Father Hurley loved.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 21 June 2020
◆ Option for the Deprived, by James Hurley SJ, Centre for Catholic Studies CUHK 2008.
Note from Derek Reid Entry
During the Requiem Mass on 5 December, Father James Hurley SJ, assistant pastor at St Vincent’s Parish, Wongtaisin, and a contemporary of Father Reid, gave the homily in Chinese. Father Hurley pointed out that Father Reid was a man of all-round and exceptional ability. This was recognised soon after he joined the Jesuits and, even before his ordination as a priest, he had been given many responsibilities. After his return to Hong Kong his great qualities were even more clearly seen. Father Hurley gave examples of the help that had been given to himself and others.He was not only a great headmaster, he was also a great priest, said Father Hurley.“We shall never forget him,” said Father Hurley in conclusion.
Early Education at Mount Mellary Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford
1946-1949 Rathfarnham - Studying at UCD
1949-1952 Tullabeg - Studying Theology Philosophy
1952-1954 Faber Community, Hong Kong - Studying Cantonese
1954-1955 Wah Yan Kowloon - Regency : Teaching Religion, English and History; Assistant Prefect; Editor of “The Shield”
1959-1960 Rathfarnham - Tertianship
1960-1961 Xavier House, Hong Kong - Studying Cantonese; Teacher; Novitiate Spiritual Father
1961-1962 Wah Yan Kowloon - Spiritual Father; Teaching English and Spiritual Father in “Chu Hai College”, Hong Kong
1964 Chaplain at Chinese University Hong Kong; Chaplain to Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students; Chaplain to Catholic students at Hong Kong Technical College
1965 Chaplain at Black and Grantham Training Colleges
1966 Chaplain at Baptist College, Kowloon; Director of College Club at McPherson Playground
1966 Transcribed to Chinese Province [CHN] (03/12/1966)
1972 Working in Adam Schall Residence, Chinese University Hong Kong
1972-1973 Manila, Philippines - Studying Pastoral Theology at East Asian Pastoral Institute
1973-2014 Wah Yan, Kowloon - Novice Master
1977 Working in Social Apostolate
1978 Consultor; Parish work & Chaplain to YCW at Christ the Worker Chapel, Kowloon
1983 Parish Priest
1992 Parish Team St Vincent’s; Council of Priests; Ecclesiastical Councelor of Justice and Peace Commission; Consultor at Ricci Hall
1996 Assistant Pastor of St Ignatius Church
2000 Chaplain of St Camillus Society
2002 Consultant to the Delegate for Hong Kong
2005 Apostleship of Prayer Director for Hong Kong; School Chaplain
2009 Assistant Rector St Ignatius Church
2013 Retreat Apostolate
2015-2020 Milltown Park - Pastoral Ministry
◆ Jesuits in Ireland
Fr James Hurley – ‘an exceptional Jesuit’
Fr James (Jimmy) Hurley SJ died peacefully in Cherryfield Lodge nursing home, Ranelagh, Dublin, on Easter Monday, April 13, 2020. He was 93 years old.
Due to government guidelines regarding public gatherings, a private funeral service took place on 15 April followed by burial in Ardmore Round Tower Cemetery, County Waterford. You can watch a video of the ceremony here.
It was attended by a small number of his family and Tom Casey SJ of the Milltown Park community who represented all Jesuits. Messages of condolence were sent from Hong Kong where Fr James spent over 50 years as a missionary involved with education and pastoral work. Watch a photo-story tribute to him here made by his friends in Hong Kong. Also read a tribute by the Asian Human Rights Commission ».
Born in Ardmore, County Waterford in 1926, James was educated by the Cistercians at Mount Mellary Abbey and entered the Jesuits at St Mary’s, Emo, County Laois, in 1944. He was influenced by his brother Michael (sometimes called the ‘father of Irish ecumenism’) who entered the Jesuits before him. After studying at UCD and Tullabeg, James went to Hong Kong in 1952 to study Cantonese and to do his regency as a secondary school teacher. He studied theology and philosophy at Milltown Park in Dublin, and after ordination and tertianship he returned to Hong Kong in 1960.
James took on many different roles during his years as a Jesuit missionary. He was a secondary school teacher, a spiritual father, a university chaplain, a novice master, a parish priest and spiritual director. He came back to Ireland in 2015 where he engaged in pastoral ministry at Milltown Park, Dublin.
Fr James was much loved wherever he went, and after his return to Dublin he had a steady flow of visitors both from Ardmore and from Hong Kong.
Messages of condolence were sent by the Chinese Jesuit Provincial and Cardinal of Hong Kong, expressing their deep appreciation for the missionary work of Fr James and acknowledging the impact of his legacy on the people of Hong Kong. The messages were read out at the graveside by Irish Jesuit Fr Tom Casey on Wednesday 15 April.
In his letter, Fr Stephen Chow SJ, Chinese Provincial, said: “Jimmy was an exceptional Jesuit who had given so many years of his life to Hong Kong. He was always energetic, curious, daring, caring, and active. Many of us have been awakened by his passion for social justice. And he is dearly remembered for that”.
He continued: “Many have left words and prayers on my Facebook page after I posted the announcement this afternoon. Cardinal Tong of Hong Kong also sent me a condolence message this evening. This has never happened before with Jesuits who had gone before him, and some of them were famous and well- loved priests.”
Cardinal Tong wrote the following: “On behalf of the Diocese, I would like to offer my condolences and sympathy on the death of our dear Fr Jimmy Hurley. Jimmy had served the Diocese in different ministries for many years with much love and dedication to every ministry he was assigned to.
He served as Spiritual Director of the Justice and Peace Commission, Chaplain to students of some universities in Hong Kong, Pastor of St Vincent Church in Wong Tai Sin, Christ the Worker Mass Centre in Ngau Tau Kok, Star of the Sea in Chaiwan, and St Ignatius Chapel in Waterloo Road.
He was a very capable man. He spoke very good Cantonese and was able to reach out to the different sectors of people in Hong Kong. He was well-loved and appreciated by everyone. He was a good example for the priests in our Diocese”.
Both Fr Chow and Cardinal Tong prayed: “May Fr Jimmy now rest in the eternal embrace of our Risen Lord whom he has vowed to follow”.
The Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong has also created a cartoon image depicting Fr James going to his eternal reward.
Fr Todd Morrissey SJ, historian and author of the book Jesuits in Hong Kong, paid the following tribute to Fr James, his fellow community member in Milltown Park.
“When I visited Hong Kong in 2006 to research the history of the Irish Jesuits there, Jimmy was still full of zeal as a parish priest working directly with the Chinese people. He was very popular, always willing to help people out and was noted for his good sermons and his fluency in Cantonese.
When he came to live in Milltown Park, there were constant visitors from the Chinese. These included young Chinese people who have great respect for the elderly and their wisdom. There were many dinners with our Chinese visitors, several days a week over three years.”
According to Fr Morrissey, even during his last two years at Cherryfield Lodge, Jimmy was always a man who listened to people, interested individually in what they were doing, and very friendly and encouraging. “He was always in good humour and cheerful no matter what complaint. He was a very pleasant man to live with and to know.”
Fr James is deeply missed by his family, his wide circle of friends and his Jesuit communities in Hong Kong and Dublin. He is buried alongside his parents. A memorial Mass in celebration of Fr James’ life will take place at a later date.
Ar dheis De go raibh a hanam dilis.
◆ Irish Jesuit Missions
IRISH MEN BEHIND THE MISSIONS: FR. JAMES HURLEY SJ
Fifty years in Hong Kong: an Irish Jesuit’s tale.
Fr. James Hurley SJ reached the grand old age of 90 this month! Jimmy, as he is affectionately called, has a lifetime of 72 years of service as a missionary with the Society of Jesus. Across the decades, he has met and befriended remarkable men, been inspired by their dynamism and sense of mission and entered wholeheartedly and courageously into the lives of people living in poverty in Hong Kong. He went into the Jesuit organisation on the Feast of St Stanisclaus, November 13th 1944, his ordination taking place on the Feast of St Ignatius July 31st 1958.
Here he shares some of the stories of his mission with humour, grace and insight with the Irish Jesuit Missions.
James was the youngest child born into a family of two boys and two girls at Ardmore, County Waterford in 1926. As a child he spent a lot of time in Church activities and enjoyed assisting at Mass. He was influenced by his brother Fr. Michael Hurley SJ who was a theologian, widely known as the 'father of Irish ecumenism' for his promotion of Christian unity. James studied in Mount Melleray from 1939 – 1944 and at the time, Mellary had a thriving farm producing an abundance of food. But when Foot and Mouth disease struck in 1941, the students were not allowed home for the Easter vacation. They organised a protest demanding “We want a vac!”
And so James, from his youth, prepared for a life of student protest, mobilisation and critical engagement that was to continue for most of his lifetime.
It was 1952. Four years had been spent in Milltown for study and pastoral work in preparation for the Far Eastern missionary life to come. At last, it was time to set sail by boat for Hong Kong! The long voyage took about 30 days and James was grateful for the companionship of a priest and three fellow seminarians on board.
Ten years passed in Hong Kong before James began working with students as the acting Head of Foreign Languages Department at a post-secondary College. He also became Chaplain to the Hong Kong Federation of Post Secondary Students from 1965 to 1972. Students at that time were against colonialism and many forms of injustice and were concerned with, for example, the colonial status of Hong Kong and the fact that Chinese wasn’t a recognised official language. Two of them wrote an article 'From Hope to Despair', an all-round and penetrating analysis of the College that was not well received by the authorities. Twelve students were subsequently expelled — one of whom was a Buddhist monk — and thus began the student movement in Hong Kong with which James was closely associated.
It was an era of student mobilisation and protest: similar movements were gathering momentum on the US campuses regarding the attainment of civil rights and the ending of the Vietnam War.
James, Jack and the Bishop
Jack Clancy, a close friend and Maryknoll missionary, was very involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement and was not in favour with Bishop Francis Hsu who had been born in Shanghai and was then Bishop of Hong Kong. When James’ name was mentioned in the public press in relation to the student movement, the Bishop was quite angry and requested a meeting with him. James recalls his trepidation at that very formal meeting with Bishop Hsu and others while he explained himself and his actions. He was exonerated and the two men became very good friends despite the dramatic beginning to their relationship.
But there remained misunderstanding between Jack and the Bishop. James helped to build a relationship between them by asking the students if they would like Jack Clancy as their Chaplin. The vote was a resounding YES! Armed with that mandate, James went to the Bishop and brought both men together. Jack was appointed Chaplin.
It was the early 1970s and James felt that the time was ripe for a European priest to pass the reins on to a Chinese priest. Three seminarians were encouraged to become involved with the student movement and one, Stephen Tam, was selected. Then the Bishop put Jack Clancy and another in place to assist Stephen – who meanwhile had become a priest – in covering James’ former workload.
James’ and Jack’s relationship continues and to this day, they are very close friends. Jack is now married and a very prominent lawyer practising in Hong Kong. Unfortunately and much to his great sorrow, James sheds a quiet tear as he recalls Bishop Hsu’s untimely death as a result of a heart attack suffered in his 50’s.
On Sabbatical in the Philippines
“Speak out, speak strongly, criticise while remaining loyal!”, was a message that resounded for James while on Sabbatical at the East Asia Pastoral Institute in Manila in 1972. Bishop Cisco Claver gave a course there in September of that year: it was the beginning of Martial Law in the Philippines.
James remembers Cisco as being very casual, he played basketball with the students to win. He was an utterly fearless, exceptionally dynamic man with a sharp, penetrating intellect with whom James became well acquainted. While spending Christmas at Cisco’s residence and office, he would often drive with the Bishop in his jeep through the mountains. He laughs when he recalls the occasion they visited a convent while the Bishop stayed at the wheel: “Bring your driver in for a cuppa tea”, said the Reverend Mother!
Ed Delatorre (Edicio de Latore) an SVD priest, was politically active in Manila and on the run at the time while James was there. He took the opportunity to hear Ed speak at a meeting held in secrecy (Ed still lives in Manila although contact with him has been lost).
When Martial Law was declared by Marcos, it was discussed by the Filipino Bishops who used to meet bi-annually. Should they issue a statement? The laity was waiting for guidance...the clergy were for and against. Some Jesuits were close to Marcos while others like John Doherty — a sociologist and a Jesuit at the time — were highly critical of Martial Law and it was he who wrote its first analysis. It was 1975 before it was issued as a statement.
But in 1972, the Bishops decided to say nothing. “We bishops have no conscience“, Cisco subsequently declared.
The inspiration of remarkable men
Bishop Perez left a deep impression on James when he announced: ‘You students are the prophets of the 20th Century!”. He compared them to Amos in the Old Testament. Amos was called by God to preach social justice and was rusticated i.e. sent to live in the remote countryside. It was an enlightening moment for James! He was inspired to write a paper on the concept of 'prophecy' and intends to expand on his ideas in his retirement. 'Prophecy' in today’s Church carries great meaning for him.
James recalls Fr Dan Berrigan SJ, a social activist and now in his 90s, who suffered the same fate i.e. rustication, in the US. But eventually Dan was fully accepted and loved by all.
Pope Francis is tending towards the same social activism, James adds, although in the past was not obviously political when based in Bueno Aires, Argentina. Michael Campbell Johnson, an elderly Jesuit in the UK, was in charge of the Social Apostolate based in Rome at the time. Seemingly, he was sent to Francis (then Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ) to hold discussions with him. Long conversations ensued but Michael deemed them 'inconclusive'. Bergoglio then travelled to Europe to research his doctorate and spent a short time in Milltown Park, Dublin. On his return to Argentina, he was 'rusticated' to Cordoba. He led a simple life there, supporting the priests working in the slums and when he came back to Bueno Aires in 1998 as Archbishop, he was a different man.
An unanswered question often comes into James’ thoughts. One day he was in conversation with a priest based in Japan who had been a staff member in the Vatican financial department. A just, living wage was being strongly recommended at the time by the Church and when James enquired as to how the Vatican was implementing it amongst lay staff, there was silence. The priest replied that concessions, such as petrol allowances, were given to staff. James hesitatingly concludes that the Vatican was not practising what it preached on the issue. However, he is of the opinion that the Vatican would benefit from opening up and prays for Pope Francis' efforts in trying to bring change about.
Blessed Franz Jägerstätter the Austrian has also been a lifelong inspirational figure. He was a conscientious objector who refused to take up arms during World War 2 and was subsequently executed as a result. He was later declared a martyr and beatified by the Church.
James recalls another inspirational man, the Very Rev. Pedro Arrupe SJ, and the story Pedro would tell about assisting at Mass when he was Father General of the Society of Jesus. Pedro liked to pray in the small simple rooms of St Ignatius and one day, a visiting American Jesuit prepared to say Mass there for his group of American visitors. The sacristan was absent so Pedro performed the duties required. One of the group remarked afterwards to Pedro: “That Mass was a bit strange, but valid.” When he realised to whom he was speaking, he shot off!
On the factory floor
After the Sabbatical and not wishing to take up a full time position, the Hong Kong students wanted James to become Asian Chaplin to the Secretariat of Pax Romano, which he did. In addition, he was invited to become Master of Novices in Hong Kong. Although it was quite a change, he accepted but eventually when the student number dropped, it was time once again to take another direction.
James quotes Canon John Hayes (founder of Muntir na Tíre in 1937), who was told by his ordaining Bishop on the occasion of his ordination, that he would: “Prefer to see you drunk with your people rather than sober without them”. James has tried to be with his people experiencing their realities throughout his ministry. And so it was that he became a factory worker in Hong Kong.
It was a clothes factory where James cut cloth endlessly for four mind-numbing months. It wasn’t easy getting a job there, as a foreigner. Although offered a supervisory role, he refused wanting to experience life as an ordinary worker. He prayed daily for social justice and read Karl Marx’ Communist Manifesto, sitting on the factory floor. Although read previously, the difference of his understanding from the factory floor was immense. He carries a great respect for Marx and treasures pictures taken at his graveside.
James laughs when he recalls the first time he meet the owner of the factory where he was employed. They recognised each other immediately. He was a graduate of a Hong Kong Jesuit college! They were both fixed to the floor. Here was the priest talking to the student who was the boss talking to the worker! Who was to make the first move... suddenly, a voice called out to the boss: “You’re wanted on the phone”. Thank God! James breathed a sigh of relief.
He spent four months in two different factories and although he got used to it, standing continuously was hard. Having said that, conditions were better then; hours were nine to five and there was no overtime. James got to know his co-workers well and often had discussions with them. Two young workers would remind him; “You’re a priest; you are free to come and go”.
Life with the Sisters and Brothers of Charity
While working at the factory, James lived with the Missionary Sisters and Brothers of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa. They were a cheerful group of young men, one of whom was an Australian, Brother Andrew, and a former Jesuit. Andrew, who later became General of the Brothers, also worked there and shared a room with him, sleeping on the floor, living in poverty and depending on charity. James recalls the evening when there was nothing to eat for dinner but tea and bread. Then there was a knock on the door. Two big chickens were handed in! The community dined in style the following evening.
James went on a 'Discernment' retreat in a Silesian retreat house. It afforded him a period of reflective time based on St. Ignatius’ observations of one’s feelings: to understand God’s will for us in our lives. He recalled the advice of the famous Fr. Tommy Ryan SJ given to him as a seminarian, “Stay in touch with poor people”. Three parishes in almost 30 years
James went on to serve in his new parish of Christ the Worker for 11 years, being Parish Priest for eight of them. It was a very happy, active period in James’ life. He began a Faith and Justice group and a Labour group amongst the communities in the parish. He was a founding member of the Hong Kong Amnesty International group there, informal at first and then having sought government approval, on a formal basis. The founder of Amnesty, Peter Benenson, became a friend and colleague. Amnesty is thriving in Hong Kong, as it is all around the world, to this day.
It is usual for a Jesuit to spend five to 10 years in one place before relocating. A Sabbatical taken in Dublin was followed by over a decade at St. Vincent’s Parish in a poor area of Hong Kong. It was the happiest period in James life. There a basic Christian community and Legion of Mary movement was flourishing. He worked towards collaboration with the Lutheran and Anglican communities, with the pastors sometimes giving homilies at each other’s churches. Nearby was the famous temple of Wong Tai Sin where thousands would gather regularly, especially for the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Interfaith relationships were built up and a new one with the neighbouring Buddhist monks was in the making, when James was requested to move to the Star of the Sea Parish. He was very regretful to leave at this point as so much progress was being made.
There were two other Jesuits along with James at the new parish. It was before the Hong Kong changeover of 1997 and no one knew what to expect. The transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China — referred to as "the Handover" internationally or "the Return" in China — took place on 1st July 1997 and marked the end of British rule in Hong Kong. Having spent over five years there, he returned to the Jesuit Parish of St. Ignatius Church at Wah Yan College.
Leaps of faith: Johnny’s and A Wong’s stories
It was common knowledge that James was in touch with families that were in financial need. Friends and colleagues often donated money to be used where required.
One day a woman called to ask for help for her son Johnny. He was the eldest of a family of five and on remand in prison for shooting another man; his brother awaited trial in another courtroom for rape and robbery. Johnny was found guilty of Triad membership and manslaughter. He received a sentence of 15 years and was freed after 12, during which time James visited him regularly and was very impressed by his intelligence. Thus began a long friendship that is still enjoyed by both.
Later on Fr. James married Johnny to Jovita and the couple went on to parent a son and daughter, now both young adults. Johnny's children’s educational expenses being very large, James contacted a wealthy friend who then supported the son’s second and third level education. He has done very well in his exams and has a choice between Oxford and Cambridge Universities for the 2015 academic year. Johnny’s daughter got top marks in her University Finals and her intention is to work with prisoners. Another of James’ friends, who is a graduate of the Jesuit school in Hong Kong and a well- known lawyer practising there, is also highly supportive of the family.
Johnny himself works as a lorry driver and takes care of his widowed father. His prison record goes against him unfortunately when he applies for a job, and he has been unable to progress in a career.
And then there was A Wong. He worked as a cook in the school where James lived. He was a gambler and although he borrowed from the teaching staff, no one reported him. He owed a great deal of money to the Triad and was constantly under pressure from them. His wife had divorced him, for legal reasons. He lost his job and was at rock bottom when he attempted suicide.
But James had faith in A Wong and knew him well. He helped the man to pay his debts and stop gambling. A Wong rebuilt his life and although they remain legally divorced, is still with his wife.
In 2012, James travelled to Ireland thinking it would be his last time to visit his homeland. However, upon returning to Hong Kong, his health began to fail and when he was offered the chance to live permanently in Ireland, he decided to return. That was in October 2014 and he is now, he says, adjusting himself to a new life situation. Living a quiet life in Dublin is very different from the bustling, thronged streets of Hong Kong with its seven and a half million people!
James is looking for an appropriate apostolate to continue his life of Jesuit service in the country of his birth. He would like to direct “retreats in daily life” as he has done over the last two years. This is a month long program of daily prayer, reflection and spiritual direction that is conducted in the course of a person’s ordinary responsibilities. It has become the most common way of making a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
He would like to become involved with Amnesty International Ireland and continue the human rights activities that have characterised James’s lived experience and lifelong ministry in the service of people living in poverty.
Compiled by Irish Jesuit Missions Communications from a series of interviews with Fr James, 3rd March 2015. Updated 17th October 2016
◆ Biographical Notes of the Jesuits in Hong Kong 1926-2000, by Frederick Hok-ming Cheung PhD, Wonder Press Company 2013 ISBN 978 9881223814 :
He first came to Hong Kong in 1952 and learned Cantonese and then taught for a year at Wah Yan College Kowloon.
After Ordination he returned to Hong Kong in 1960 and from 1961-1967 taught at Chu Hoi College.
He had great sympathy for the Cantonese people and their nationalistic feelings. He was a chaplain with the Catholic Tertiary students from 1965-1975, including Chung Chi College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and he was also the Spiritual Director of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic students.
From about 1977 he served in the parishes of Ngau Tau Tok, Wong Tai Sin and Chai Wan until 1997 when he retired to Wah Yan College Kowloon.
He was involved in SELA - the Jesuit inter-provincial grou focused on socio-economic life in Asia. In 1977 he went to a SELA meeting in Bangkok and was especially happy with the living arrangements there which involved living with the poor and marginalised. There he met with some Thai students and SELA made a commitment to setting up some Basic Christian Communities in Thailand, where members would live together and carry on with their normal lives. He became the Hong Kong SELA representative in 1979, succeeding Patrick McGovern. he was then involved in compiling a report on Faith and Ideology, and this 9.000 word report also covered the issue of nationalism in Hong Kong, Marxism and the Church’s response.
In Hong Kong he was also involved in some intensive group Retreats at Cheung Chau. The emphasis of these retreats was on spiritual development and social awareness.
1980 He was officially appointed by the Bishop as Chaplain to the Young Christian Workers movement.
He was loved by his students as he was so approachable.