College to put focus on poor, say Jesuits

Leading US advisers of proposed university explain order's underlining philosophy during visit to city to prepare for tender

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2013, 4:41am

Helping the poor would be an important focus of the proposed Jesuit liberal arts college in Hong Kong, say two advisers, who are presidents of two of the oldest Catholic universities in the United States.

Dr John DeGioia, of Washington DC's Jesuit Georgetown University which dates back to 1792, and Father Michael Engh, president of San Francisco's 162-year-old Jesuit Santa Clara University, are among 23 trustees of the proposed college, along with non-official executive councillor Anna Wu Hung-yuk.

DeGioia said in Hong Kong that the Jesuits - founded by St Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century - had a 400-year-old tradition of education with a "profound respect for those who are in need, those who are marginalised, those who are disenfranchised - specifically the poor".

The preparation task force hopes to establish the non-profit, self-financing university on a 16-hectare site in Queen's Hill, Fanling, which former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen designated for a private university.

The land is due to go to tender in March.

Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim said this month it would go ahead, after saying he was mystified by recent "rumours" that the land had been redesignated for housing.

Engh said all his students had to take a course known as experiential learning for social justice, which included visiting the poor, the homeless and the abused.

"The idea is to educate the mind but also to change the heart," he said. "It's the Jesuit education philosophy to have direct contact with people in need."

The college would also have theology classes, just as in other Jesuit universities, but Engh said the course would not be about Catholicism.

Instead, the classes would grapple with questions such as the meaning of evil or what it means to be human, so students could understand their "interior spiritual lives".

DeGioia said courses in philosophy, theology, literature and history "can enable us to understand our humanity at its deepest level" by tackling complex issues such as poverty and its causes.

The college, which has already established a partnership with 25 Jesuit universities from around the world, will offer three streams of study - social studies, humanities and natural sciences.