Irish men behind the Far East Missions

Fr John Rusell SJ
Fr John Russell SJ and a friend at the 90th Anniversary Celebrations of the Arrival of the Jesuits in Hong Kong

Fr John Russell SJ, aged 90 talks about his life in Hong Kong. In this interview, he shares three highlights of his long ministry with John Guiney SJ.

The Catholic Centre

Fr Russell’s favourite time was when he was in charge of the Catholic Centre in a commercial building in Hong Kong. It had a few floors dedicated to the Centre that included a chapel. He met all kinds of people there—some wanting comfort and consolation and some just wanting a comfortable place to sit while filling in time!

The Diocesan Convention

In 1968, there was a Diocesan Convention. Fr Russell admits it was actually a Synod but they decided not to give it that name as it would be bound by the regulations of a Synod. Its purpose was to bring the Diocese up to date after the Second Vatican Council. He was asked to take charge of the structure. Meetings were held over nine months on almost every evening and resulted in many documents.

“But documents are easily forgotten” he reflects. They were to be presented to the Bishop who unfortunately died. His replacement also passed away after a year and was followed by Cardinal Wu.


Working with students at Ricci Hall

A lively highlight was working as Warden to 120 students at Ricci Hall. It is a hostel for students attending Hong Kong University. Fr Russell enjoyed ministering to the noisy, lively young students – for 12 years they kept him young and vital: he often turned a blind eye to their antics!

They got on very well together and celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016. Two not very flattering portraits were presented to him on the occasion. “But the intention was good” he says. In 1990, following that period, he came to WahYan College.

A graceful old age

At 85 Fr Russell had to retire, as was required by the Cardinal. His decision had come about as the result of an incident involving an elderly parish priest who almost reversed his car into a man. The pedestrian reacted angrily and the priest in a fury jumped out and struck him. The Cardinal came to the conclusion that by 85, a priest could be irascible!

Fr Russell still works with the Curia in Hong Kong in the marriage annulment section. Once the boss there, he says he now makes the coffee!

He looks forward with great humour to a graceful old age.

Author: Curated by Irish Jesuit Missions communications, 29th June 2017