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Harold Naylor SJ: A “wonderful life” in Hong Kong

Fr Harold Naylor SJ died peacefully in Hong Kong on 4 October, 2018 at the age of 87. He is the third Irish Jesuit missionary to have passed away this year. His funeral takes place at Saint Ignatius Chapel, Wah Yan College secondary school in Hong Kong on 11 October, 2018.

Background

Fr Naylor was not born in Ireland; it was his adopted homeland and, he said, “the only place I ever felt welcome and wanted”. He spent the first 19 years of his life in the Middle East, in cities including Damascus, Cairo, and Jerusalem, and attended boarding school in Beirut. He felt out of place in these places, because of his unusual heritage. His mother was from a Greek family who lived in Egypt and his father was an Englishman who arrived in the country as a dispatch rider for the army at the start of World War I. His parents married in 1929. They lived a happy life in the Middle East, but things changed in 1948 when his father died. His mother became engaged to an Irish man who was in the Palestinian police, and when the Jewish state of Israel came into being he brought the family to his homeland, Ireland.

Joining the Society of Jesus

Fr Naylor attended Trinity College Dublin as a medical student but he knew that he wanted a spiritual life, and left after a year. In January 1950 he knocked at the door of the Jesuit Superior at St Francis Xavier’s Church, Dublin and this interview was the first step to join the Jesuits. He was accepted and so began his journey with the Society of Jesus. The Irish Jesuits planned to send many men to develop Jesuit service in what was then known as Northern Rhodesia – Zambia – to expand missionary work. Fr Naylor was excited to become a missionary, but felt that his lifelong delicate constitution prevented him being of best service in the harsh environment of Africa. He was asked to become a missionary to China, and the thought of following Jesuits Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci gave him great joy.

In an interview with Maurice O’Keeffe from Irish Life and Lore, Fr Naylor stated: “So, after a year in college my mother took me away”. “I can see where your heart is. Go ahead,” she said. “And I became a Jesuit… It took me two years to make the decision”. He also spoke about his early days in the Society: “When I joined the Jesuits, I didn’t feel Irish. I’m an Englishman… I was the only foreigner in the Jesuit house.” He commented that many of the Jesuits were pro-nationalist who only spoke in Irish. However, when he got the call later to go to Hong Kong, he was told it was better to be English.

Wah Yan College, Kowloon

He first travelled to Hong Kong in 1960 to begin his mission, and spent an interim four years (1962 – 1967) in the Philippines to better prepare him for his work in China. He recalls these years as among the happiest of his life. He took a post in the Jesuit-run Wah Yan College in Kowloon in 1967, and remained there for more than forty years. Fr Naylor was a year-three English and Biology teacher, but his commitment to the students of the college was in more than just teaching.

In 1968 he took over from fellow Irish Jesuit Fr Joseph Mallin SJ (who died earlier this year) as the Director of the Wah Yan Poor Boys’ Club and was delighted to have the opportunity to help young boys who had no opportunity of schooling. The club members were living in huts or on rooftops. Some of them were apprentices. He attributed the idea behind the club as coming from Belvedere College, where he had studied in Dublin. There was a Newsboys Club for young boys who sold newspapers and were not able to go to school. The club became, after several years, the Wah Yan Childrens’ Club and Fr Naylor remained as Director from 1968 to 1994.

Speaking with The Shield about teaching ethics at Wah Yan College, Fr Naylor noted: “A teacher is to help a person to grow and develop”. It’s not only biological growth. It’s also emotional growth; it’s intellectual growth; it’s imagination growth; and it’s moral growth.

In the South China Morning Post, Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, who studied at Wah Yan College from 1971 to 1978, said Father Naylor was an unconventional teacher who conducted a lot of field trips even in the 1970s. “He was well liked by his students and I am sure he will be remembered as an enlightening mentor to many,” Leong said. The long list of Naylor’s pupils at the college includes Leong, lawmaker James To Kun-sun, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu and Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung.

Conservancy and ecology

In 1968 Fr Naylor received a letter from Chung Chi College, Hong Kong inviting him to join its prestigious Conservancy Association. Botany and ecology were lifelong interests of his and after joining the association he began the Secondary School Conservancy Clubs and studied Ecology at the University of Hong Kong.

His involvement in ecology attracted the attention of the South China Morning Post and he wrote a column on environmental matters for over two years. Environmental news was a hot topic in the 1970s, and Fr Naylor went on to become a delegate representing Hong Kong at the United Nations Conference on The Human Environment, in Stockholm, June 1972. He had a commitment to what is now known as sustainable living and enjoyed living a simple life. Wah Yan College Kowloon is an ideal of sustainable living and is unusual in having vast areas of greenery in low-density building, where parts of Hong Kong have the highest residential population per square kilometre in the world.

Reflection on his life

In a 2007 interview, Fr Naylor reflected on his decades in Hong Kong and concluded that his life there had been a happy and fulfilling one.

“What then could be my last word? It is of gratitude to the students whom I have taught, thanks to the teachers who have put up with me, and indebtedness to Hong Kong, which has given me such a wonderful life. I have lived in the same room in Wah Yan College for forty years. My fellow Jesuits have been supportive and friendly. I have enjoyed living in the greenery and good air in ten acres of King’s Park. No wonder I have no regrets, but only happiness and joy in my heart. Then I have to add all those I have known as a priest outside the school, and they are in the hundreds. And all this happens in my adopted home of Hong Kong, so thanks to Hong Kong and all its people who have harboured me and made my life so happy.”

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.