Citations and Speeches


118th Congregation (1983)

Rev Father Cyril BARRETT
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences

The Public Orator Professor Peter Bernard Harris, B.A., B.SC. (Econ.), PH.D., D.Litt. (PCE), wrote and delivered the following citation:

Your Excellency: I have the pleasure to present to you Father Cyril Joseph Barrett of the Society of Jesus for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa. Father Barrett hails from Ireland, from County Cork, and attended Clongowes Wood School some 40 kilometres from Dublin. Clongowes has a reputation for taking students from over the whole of Ireland to provide them with an all-round education. While at school Father Barrett took full advantage of a balanced schooling amidst the beauteous splendours of the Emerald Isle. Ireland has a population only half that of Hong Kong, but it is a land which has given much to our city-state, including some half dozen of its governors and of course a goodly number of good men like Father Barrett himself. Cyril Barrett proceeded in 1937 to the National University of Ireland in Dublin where he became a student of history. His studies included ancient history as well as a fair portion of Latin thrown in. His particular love, however, was rather in the Renaissance period - a period which has absorbed the attentions of the greatest historians. Alas, today history is often made so quickly that we do not always have the time to study it.

At age, 17 or thereabouts, Cyril Barrett was to become aware of a vocation and recognized his call to the priesthood. In the meantime, there were academic honours to be won. In Dublin, he graduated with first class honours principally in history, and took a course of studies leading to a Higher Diploma in Education of the same university.

His new ambition was to become a cadet member of the celebrated order, the Society of Jesus, and the study for the priesthood now absorbed the next 14 years of his life - years full of the necessary intellectual growth in that calling. He applied himself to philosophy and theology and the necessary pedagogy of the priesthood. In 1949, at age 32, Cyril Barrett was ordained priest and was now ready to consider the future appropriate for a man of the cloth. His superiors had ideas and so did he. The question was: would he become a Jesuitworking in Hong Kong or Northern Rhodesia (today's Zambia)? For him the answer was to be Hong Kong and so in 1951 he made his arrival in the Fragrant Harbour. Life in Hong Kong a mere five or six years after the war was not easy. We were in the early stages of our redevelopment, at the threshold of great changes which were only dimly perceived at that moment in time. Yet Jesuits are famous for many things, not excluding the confident vigour with which they pursue the exchange of views. Jesuits are, as we all realize, renowned for their prowess in the art of rational debate. Indeed, the popular, vulgar view, or cliche, is that the Jesuit is skilled in verbal pugilistics - and, if I may borrow a phrase from another sphere, 'float like a butterfly and sting like a bee'! They recall that the Church is after all not a club for saints; it is a hospital for sinners. Mr. Chancellor, Jesuits have always manifested a particular concern for the ancient culture of China. Jesuits have been celebrated for their trans-cultural interests. This year 1983, we need to recall is the four-hundredth anniversary year of the arrival in China of Matteo Ricci, that great Jesuit and peerless interpreter of the West to China and of China to the West. Now, Father Barrett's work has no doubt, characteristically for a Jesuit, been largely, but not exclusively in the field of education, about which I must shortly speak.

Let me first however, Mr. Chancellor, refer to a particular passion of Cyril Barrett the man, as distinct from Father Barrett, the priest. He is known widely as a prominent member of Hong Kong's archaeological fraternity in whose interesting journals he has penned a number of scholarly articles. We find that he has a special expertise in the stones of Lamma. Very appropriate, I may say, for a Catholic cleric. The Church after all, was founded on a rock. Father Barrett revels in considering artifacts of 3,000 years ago. Lamma man becomes Lamma Homo Sapiens, realities before his eyes. I have mentioned archaeology Sir, because typically in order to get a glimpse of this all-rounded man, we must begin with fundamentals. He has grappled with Hong Kong's culture from the bottom up, learning both its origins, its archaeology and its language, Cantonese. However, from culture we turn to education, the primary professional concern of Father Barrett, Educator. He, above, all, will know that a teacher is like a candle which offers light to others, while consuming itself. After three years of teaching in Wan Yan College, Father Barrett took up the principalship of the school to which position he has since returned. In 1962, Father Barrett was appointed Warden of Ricci Hall and thereby hangs a tale. In the old days about 60 young men were able to live at Ricci and savour the true delights of collegiate living. The old Hall was too small for expansion, so down it came. Underneath was Belcher's Fort, the building named it appears after the man who raised the Union Jack in 1841; underneath too were nestling a formidable quantity of cockroaches which provided our local sparrows with considerable sustenance for some time.

Father Barrett's concern for the good growth of good education in Hong Kong has never abated. Quite so. How true it is that education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity. He has, in addition, served on a multiplicity of boards and committees with which educational administration is blessed (or plagued). He has served on our Court, as well as the Council of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His skills have been in demand in such special areas as Examinations Boards and on the Grant Schools' Council.

Mr. Chancellor, outside our city too, education has commanded Father Barrett's attention, but largely as a means of seeing what can be done for Hong Kong's young men. He is above all a teacher: 'the most responsible, the least advertised, the worst paid, and the most richly rewarded profession in the world'.

He has visited Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to assess the possible opportunities available to the students from our schools. He has persevered over the University fees issue which has recently taxed our administrators, and in 1981, he initiated a post-secondary scholarship scheme by which students of promise might obtain places in universities outside Hong Kong.

Mr. Chancellor, we have not yet exhausted the contributions of Father Barrett. He has been indefatigable in his concern for the better utilization of the environment. He has turned his pen against over-ground pylons, against the use of Victoria Barracks for mainly commercial purposes and against the spoliation of Stonecutters and Lamma Islands.

He has contributed to the discussion on the necessity for technical education, on the role of English as a medium of instruction in our schools, and on the urgent need to expand university education in Hong Kong at large. I gather some of Father Barrett's missives have even been directed towards the desk of Your Excellency and your predecessors. There could well be more to come, I suggest. Father Barrett's activities often in fact suggest the words of the old German proverb 'Pray as though no work would help, and work as though no prayer would help'.

Cardinal Newman held to an important idea. 'This', said the Cardinal, 'is what the Church is said to want, not party men, but sensible, temperate, sober, well-judging persons to guide it...".

I would submit, Mr. Chancellor, that we have here a splendid description of our graduand, one truly appropriate to our new doctor in social sciences. I, therefore, call upon you, Mr. Chancellor, to confer on Cyril Joseph Barrett, in recognition of his devoted work to the education of Hong Kong youth over a period of 32 years, the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.