The Late Fr. Patrick Finneran, S.J. Inspired Me
She sells sea shells on the seashore. But if the shells she sells
are not seashore shells, then she does not sell seashores shells
on the seashore.
round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
I was in Form 5A2 (now 5Y) in 1987-88, Fr. Finneran was my form-master,
my English and Biblical teacher. He trained us to speak accurately
by always asking us to read these tongue twisters aloud, after
we had said prayers in English or Chinese on alternate days at
the beginning of our lesson. He inspired me to learn to enjoy
the wonder of spiritual enrichment for life.
enjoyed his teaching. Our class copied the tongue twisters (the
above two are only some of them) in a notebook which was at hand
whenever we had his class, since he often presented us with interesting
and exotic materials. With the textbook Practice in English, each
student was asked to give him answers orally. His saying
(wrong answers) and 'good man' (right answers) filled our lessons.
Sometimes I was not 'a good man'; however, I was determined to
be one and marvelled at the English Language: why can it reign
over the world linguistically through the infinite permutations
of the 26 letters? I started to spend much time studying the Language.
I became so fascinated with the powerful combinations of letters
that I could not resist digging into this language myself for
hours everyday. Later, in my report card (unlike the computerized,
impersonal paper nowadays),
Finneran wrote: Percival has the best vocabulary in class.
5A2 enjoyed reading stories in class. Fr. Finneran would ask some
of us to come to the platform to read aloud George Orwell's Animal
Farm, the class reader, to check our pronunciation. Sometimes
when I read the story aloud, Fr. Finneran interrupted me:
you read too FAST!" He said, pounding the teacher's desk.
Father." I blushed, but continued to read fast. The class laughed.
BAD MAN, go back to your seat!"
shuffled back to the last seat of the second row on door's side.
Reading aloud fast did not guarantee you compliments from your
5 was short. With a flash, it was April 1988. Fr. Finneran talked
to each of us off-class about our future. He asked us what we
would like to study in Form 6. He asked us if we were interested
in getting involved in Jesuit's work. Being non-religious, I hardly
understood or knew the life of the Jesuits. They were respected
in the school, on the street; they stood out from the crowd, the
mundane world; they did not teach for money, but for educating
the future generations. I just assumed that they taught until
few months after finishing Form 5, I left for Canada to study.
Earlier one day I asked Fr. Finneran for a reference. I
excited since I could talk to him again, despite my broken English.
that morning he missed our meeting at the last minute and left
the reference at the information desk for me to pick up since
he had guests. That became our last contact. Not being able to
say goodbye to him direct, I left sadly and rushed for my life-changing
sudden and tragic death in late 1989 accentuated my grief. One
cool night in Toronto, Canada, upon opening a letter air-sent
by one of my classmates, I found a small black-and-white card
with a portrait of smiling Fr. Finneran with lines of words below
it: Born 23rd January, 1915 Ireland. Died 1st October, 1989 Hong
Kong. May he rest in peace. I was stunned; I grabbed and hugged
my pillow to contain my long-held tears. In the summer of 1990,
my first year in university, I came back to Hong Kong on vacation,
and went to Fr. Finneran's gravestone to pay my last belated respect
for him at the Catholic Cemetery in Happy Valley.
September 1997, ten years later, I became the form-master of 5Y.
Entering Room 128, the same classroom where 5A2 was, gives me
a very special feeling. The images of my having classes with other
classmates, particularly in Fr. Finneran's class, re-emerged.
I always reminisce about the joy, grief (Fr. Finneran once gave
me 40 in my composition!), stress, laughter which become my permanently
indelible memories. I share the tongue twisters, Practice in English,
and my life-changing experiences with my beloved students to perpetuate
Fr. Finneran's inspiration.