Many Jesuit Provinces had missions in China before 1926 when the Vicar Apostolic of Hong Kong, Fr Henry Valtorta (1883-1953), invited the Irish Jesuits to his vicariate. In October 1926, Frs George Byrne (1879-1962) and John Neary (1889-1983) left Dublin for Hong Kong, which became a Mission for the Irish Province. They were joined, in early 1927, by Fr Daniel Finn (1886-1936) from Australia and later by Frs Richard Gallagher (1887-1960), Patrick Joy (1892-1970) and Daniel MacDonald (1891-1957).
The initial work of the mission concentrated in Hong Kong, with some teaching in Canton and Macao. Their works involved: reviving the Catholic journal, ‘The Rock’; the opening of a hostel (Ricci Hall) for Chinese Catholic students at the University of Hong Kong (1929-); their involvement in the Regional Seminary, Aberdeen, Hong Kong (1931-1964), Wah Yan College, Hong Kong (1932-) and Wah Yan College, Kowloon (1952-). Some lecturing occurred in the university, in areas such as archaeology, education, engineering, and geography. In Canton, Frs Michael Saul (1884-1932) and Joseph McCullough (1892-1932) died from cholera. Hong Kong was under Japanese occupation 1941 - 1945. The Irish Jesuits organised a school for refugees from Hong Kong in Macao and the Regional Seminary was also moved to Macao. Wah Yan College was closed in 1941 and reopened in 1945. Fr Thomas Ryan’s account “Jesuits under Fire in the siege of Hong Kong 1941” deals fully with this time.
After World War Two, the Irish Jesuits established a language school, student centre and parish in Canton. They were expelled by the Communists in . Wah Yan College grew and developed and further works included the foundation of a university hostel at Kingsmead Hall, Singapore and at Xavier Hall, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. Other works of note that Irish Jesuits had a hand in establishing and running in Hong Kong include: the Hong Kong Housing Society (1938); Wah Yan Relief Association (1938); Shoeshine Boys Club (1952-1962); the Credit Union Movement (1962); Rehabilitation Centre for the Handicapped (1962); Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (1963); Road Safety Association for Schools (1964); Industrial Relations Institute (1968); Chinese Opera in English (1960s); Fisherman’s Children School (1960s) and Welfare for Police in the Training School. In 1966, Hong Kong became a Jesuit Vice-Province and in 1985, the Province of Macau-Hong Kong was established. Today, Hong Kong is a unit within the Chinese Jesuit Province.
Over a hundred Irish Jesuits have served in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia and Singapore - 30 of whom are buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Hong Kong and two in mainland China.