How The Late Fr. Patrick Finneran, S.J. Inspired Me

(1) 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.

(2) round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.

When 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.

I 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 'bad man' (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),

Fr. Finneran wrote: Percival has the best vocabulary in class.

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:

"Percival, you read too FAST!" He said, pounding the teacher's desk.

"Sorry, Father." I blushed, but continued to read fast. The class laughed.

"Percival, BAD MAN, go back to your seat!"

I shuffled back to the last seat of the second row on door's side. Reading aloud fast did not guarantee you compliments from your listeners.

Form 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 they died.

A few months after finishing Form 5, I left for Canada to study. Earlier one day I asked Fr. Finneran for a reference. I was overwhelmingly excited since I could talk to him again, despite my broken English.

However, 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 overseas study.

His 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.

In 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.

Mr. Percival Ho


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