Father Alfred J. Deignan, SJ, a renowned educator, died on Tuesday. He was 91.
He was a former teacher and principal of Wah Yan Colleges in Kowloon and Hong Kong and also served as warden of Ricci Hall of the University of Hong Kong.
The news was announced by Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, regional superior of Macau and Hong Kong of the Society of Jesus. Chow gave Deignan the last rites before his passing.
Condolences have started pouring in. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed “deep sorrow” over his death. She revealed that she had sought his views on education shortly after she won the chief executive election.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also expressed sadness at the news. Yeung, being an alumnus of Wah Yan College Kowloon, had the privilege of receiving education directly from the good priest.
Indeed, Deignan’s students span many generations and all spectra of society. They became senior government officials, labor rights advocates, bankers, entertainers, and political figures representing various ideologies and views.
Professor Xiang Zhang, the current vice-chancellor and president of HKU, praised Deignan as “a beacon in education and a friend to many in Hong Kong”, adding that “his spirit will live on forever in the residential block at Ricci Hall that bears his name”.
Deignan was born in 1927 in the village of Mullagh in County Cavan, Ireland. He came from a family of 13 children. He became a novice in the Society of Jesus in 1945. He was admitted to University College Dublin in 1947.
In 1953, he was sent to Hong Kong and settled in Cheung Chau. He started learning Cantonese and witnessed how the locals struggled against poverty in the post-war years.
In 1955, he took up his first teaching position at Wah Yan College Hong Kong. Decades later, he became vice-principal and principal for the two Wah Yan Colleges. The Society of Jesus in Hong Kong operates both colleges, as well as Ricci Hall.
Like all Jesuits, Deignan held a deep conviction in education which he believed is of utmost importance in a person’s character formation.
He believed that teachers should provide opportunities for students to develop their talents and potential.
Those who knew Deignan praised him as a role model in education and an embodiment of love and devotion.
He taught kindness and compassion inside the classroom and practiced them in life.
Funeral will be held on Dec. 22 at Wah Yan College Kowloon.
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