Irish Men behind the Far East Jesuit Missions

Fr Seán Coghlan SJ
Fr Seán Coghlan SJ. Photo:Chop Suey/Wah Yan College Hong Kong Memories

Fr Seán Coghlan SJ has lived in Hong Kong for 52 years. Born in Limerick, Ireland, Seán has been struck by the many differences in culture. But he concludes: “deep down, there’s a similarity in all of us and it’s consoling and encouraging to find it. We’re similar in many ways in that we like to have a home to go to and a desire to go there.” Fr Seán shares his thoughts on those similarities in this interview with John Guiney SJ.


Similar themes: the lights of home

A lover of literature, poetry and music, Fr Seán compares the lines of a Chinese poem with ones from Irish literature and song that reflect these basic human desires we hold in common.

“The night is falling
and the path by the river grows dark.
Bit by bit the voices in the villages drop.
But there’s still one light shining in the forest
To guide the fishermen back home in their boat”

Seán recalls ‘The Lights of Leaca Bán’ a book by the patriot and revelutionary Alice Cashel used widely in Irish schools in the 1930s after the founding of the Irish Free State. He draws the image of travellers making their way home to their village near Coleraine, guided by the lights of Leaca Bán.The Irish song ‘The Queen of Connemara’ by Francis Fahy also echoes the theme:

“There’s a light shines out afar
and it keeps me from dismaying.
In a cot in Connemara
there’s a wife and wee ones praying
to the One who walked the waters once
to bring us safely home.”

Fr Sean Coghlan poetry book

A common desire for home, family and love.

“There’s that great desire for family, for home, for everlasting love” says Seán.
Stories shared of the marvellous adventures of a friend’s family in Hong Kong and the West Indies have enthralled him. He recalls that when one of the old men, in the tale, was asked if he would like a few more years on earth, the widower refused saying: ‘I’d love to be with my wife’.

A notable similarity that strikes Seán is that while the children of Irish and Hong Kong cultures may be different and interested in contrasting things, they both share a love of animals!

He refers to a poem written 1,600 years ago about the simple delight of ittle children playing with a kitten. In the Jesuit dining room where he lives in Hong Kong, the children come in occasionally and watch the squirrels in the trees outside. They squel with delight!

“Kids are the same all over the world.”, concludes Fr Seán with a smile.

The Irish Jesuits have been on mission in Hong Kong for 90 years and have achieved much in the service of people living in poverty, in education and in pastoral care. Please see ‘The Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong: 90 Years On’ and ‘The 90th Anniversary of Arrival of the Jesuits in Hong Kong’ a history written by Fr Alfred Joseph Deignan SJ, for further reading.

Author: Curated by Irish Jesuit Missions Communications, 4th May 2017

You can find out more about the Irish Jesuit Missions’ works in our Spring Newsletter. Jesuit missionaries, volunteers and lay collaborators are working for peace, reconciliation and sustainable development. Our work contributes towards the attainment of human rights and the Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals 2030.