A crisis of confidence haunted various sectors in Hong Kong in the 1980s, particularly after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, and the priests at the Hong Kong mission of the Society of Jesus were not immune. On April 20, 1990, less than a year after PLA tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, 58 Jesuits held a provincial meeting at which they debated whether they could stay in the city after China's resumption of Hong Kong's sovereignty in 1997. The Jesuits, who operate the two Wah Yan colleges, a primary school, Ricci Hall at the University of Hong Kong, Adam Schall Residence at Chinese University and a retreat house on Cheung Chau, weighed various worst-case scenarios, including those institutions being taken over by mainland authorities after 1997. Father Alfred Deignan, Superior of the Jesuits in Hong Kong, said the experience of communist takeovers elsewhere was that churches were targeted. 'You know, many foreign priests were expelled from mainland China after 1949. The reality was there and we didn't know what the future would be,' he said. Father Deignan said the Jesuits discussed the possibility of the two Wah Yan Colleges and Ricci Hall being seized. 'We were worried about the future of the work we were doing,' said Father Deignan. The debate is documented in a new book, Jesuits in Hong Kong, South China and Beyond by Father Thomas Morrissey, which was published last month. The participants at the 1990 meeting discussed how they would respond in the event of great instability in the city, or suppression of various institutions by the communist regime. A few with memories of being expelled from the mainland after 1949 painted a doomsday picture of a post-1997 Hong Kong. 'One claimed that if civil servants went on strike for more than three days, the People's Liberation Army would take over Hong Kong,' writes Father Morrissey. Father Robert Ng Chi-fun, Provincial of the Jesuits in Hong Kong at the time, noted that after the Tiananmen Square crackdown, many people had 'completely lost confidence' in the city's future. However, Father Ng was adamant that they stay. 'We have stated openly our intention to stay and serve the people of Hong Kong and Macau. I see this as our solidarity with the poor since only the poor have no choice but to remain,' he is quoted as saying. The majority came around to his point of view, concluding that whoever was in charge in Beijing would try to maintain Hong Kong's prosperity. 'There were some rumours at that time that we were thinking of leaving [but] we decided to stay no matter what happened,' Father Deignan said. 'Times change. The history of one period will not be the same as the next period. You cannot judge the future by the history of the past,' he said. 'The 'one country, two systems' formula gave people hope that things would be all right.' Father Deignan said the book, which Father Morrissey was commissioned to write in 2005, was intended as a history of the Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong since their arrival in 1926. A total of 107 Irish Jesuits had been sent since then, but just nine were here now along with 18 local priests, Father Deignan said. The Society of Jesus, founded in 1540, has a long connection with China beginning with Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, who lived there from 1582 to 1610 and was key figure in advancing Christian missionary work in Asia. The deeds of the Jesuits here mirror the history of Hong Kong itself. When Irish Jesuits George Byrne and John Neary stepped ashore in Kowloon in 1926 after a two-month journey, they might never have dreamed of the legacy they were to leave. The pair came at the request of the Bishop of Hong Kong, Henry Valtorta. One of their first major acts was to found a Catholic hostel, Ricci Hall, at the University of Hong Kong in 1929. Their contribution was not just accommodation - some of the missionaries lectured there. In 1932, Peter Tsui Yan-sau, who had founded Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, in 1919, approached the Jesuits to take over the school after his partner squandered the school's reserve fund in a bad investment. By then the school was the largest for Chinese students in Hong Kong, with a roll of 800. The Jesuits took over in 1933 with Father Richard Gallagher as headmaster. He immediately had to confront a student exodus - more than 300 departed along with five teachers - after local newspapers reported, erroneously, that the Jesuits would dismiss all the Chinese teachers and appoint their people. Father Gallagher eased fears about Jesuit education, giving an eloquent summary of their philosophy at the school prizegiving that year. 'A child is not merely a physical being endowed with an intelligence, he has something more important than a body. It is the function of education to develop not merely a useful man but a good man. Sound principles of morality are more important than knowledge of the sciences,' he said. Wah Yan College's Kowloon counterpart became a Jesuit College in 1952, and students from both have excelled in the academic world and various professions. A long list of prominent alumni includes Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming, Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit and Hopewell Holdings chairman Gordon Wu Ying-sheung. 'The primary school and the two Wah Yans won respect for Catholics among people of other religions or none, and have given prominence to Catholics in Hong Kong, enabling them to reach the top of their professions in medicine, law and education, to have a desire for justice and be 'men for others',' Father Morrissey writes. The low point in the Jesuits' history here was during the second world war, when many missionaries were imprisoned and tortured by the occupying Japanese. That was also the time when, in keeping with the traditions of their order, the Jesuits began to pioneer social reform and champion the rights of the underprivileged. In 1938, Irish Jesuit Thomas Ryan and the Anglican bishop of Hong Kong and Macau, the Reverend R. O. Hall, founded the Hong Kong Housing Society, the pioneering body in the area of low-cost housing. When Guangdong fell to the invading Japanese in 1938 and refugees began to pour into Hong Kong, the task of providing relief for the refugees fell largely on a four-member Refugee Committee. One of the members was Father Ryan, who was chiefly responsible for organising food and shelter. After the war, the colonial government invited Father Ryan to take up the post of director of Botany and Forestry because of a grave shortage of administrators. He subsequently helped set up the Department of Agriculture, the predecessor of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Ever versatile, Father Ryan also found time to be a regular music critic for the South China Morning Post in the 1950s. In 1946, Father Joe Howatson founded the shoeshine boys' club at Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, for shoeshine boys and street children. The children were invited to attend three nights a week, receiving simple schooling and moral instruction, games and a substantial meal. It soon became a model for some of the many boys clubs that were springing up to meet an urgent need in the early post-war years. Father Howatson became chairman of the Boys and Girls Clubs' Association in 1952. More controversially, Father Patrick McGovern founded the Industrial Relations Institute in 1968 to train workers to participate in trade unionism and to help them recognise the dignity of their work. Father McGovern was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1976, becoming the first Catholic priest appointed to the legislature, and regularly spoke up for workers and the underdog. He was lauded as the 'underdog champion' in this newspaper on his death in 1984. Three Irish Jesuits, Harold Naylor, Jimmy Hurley and Ted Collins, meanwhile, spoke up at a forum in 1987 in support of having direct elections for the Legislative Council the following year. Since the 1970s the Jesuit order in Hong Kong has faced the problem of an ageing clergy - the average age of the nine Irish Jesuits left here is 74 - and has been in decline. A commentary published in the Post in November 1976 described the Irish Jesuits in Hong Kong as a 'dying breed'. 'With fewer men now joining the priesthood, the final chapter in the Jesuit era in the colony appears to be nearing its end,' the commentary said. Harold Naylor, one of the surviving nine, said the Irish Jesuit mission stopped sending missionaries here in the 1970s, with Zambia becoming the major destination. 'The number of Jesuits is also falling in Ireland. There were an average 25 new Jesuits joining the Irish mission every year in the 1940s but there were just one or two new faces per year in the 1980s,' said Father Naylor, who has been here since 1960. Father Deignan, 81, said the Society of Jesuits had been sharing the works of running the two Wah Yan Colleges with lay staff. The two colleges have been headed by local Chinese since the 1990s.