STANLEY -- THE MARYKNOLL REGIONAL HOUSE
Fr. Bill Galvin, Class of 1956
If there is anything Maryknollers know about Maryknoll in Hong Kong it is the Maryknoll Center House in Stanley. On May 17, 2010 Maryknollers gathered at Stanley to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this beautiful house.
By 1930 the original Procure in Kowloon was too small and Maryknoll looked for a larger place. Bishop James E. Walsh, Maryknoll Vicar Apostolic of Kongmoon, favored Sancian Island (Shangchuan) in his Vicariate, just off the coast of South China where St. Francis Xavier died. However, because of the inaccessibility of Sancian Island, Hong Kong was chosen.
Bishop James A. Walsh, Superior General came out and met with a real estate agent. Together, with Fr. William Downs, Procurator, they drove out in a horse and buggy following an old military track until they came over the mountain and Mr. Lee pointed to a hilltop and said that was the place. Fr. Walsh said; “It’s exactly what I want; I’ll take it.” On 13th August, 1931 a deed for 75 years was signed for 217,800 square feet with an annual rent of HK$1000 with a purchase price of HK$54,500, and a stipulation that a building be erected valued at a minimum of US $ 50,000. Fr. Wilbur Borer, the Procurator (1927-1931) was the principal negotiator.
At the time the little fishing village of Stanley, or Chek Chu (Red Column), was very small. Apart from the few shops along the main street at the water front, there were very few other buildings, except the Police Station, almost a hundred years old, and St. Stephen’s College for boys, an Anglican institution, which was built in 1929. There was a good road from Central, but there were no public means of transportation. At that time there were wide open spaces in Stanley and quite a bit of wildlife.
The rest house and language school was to be called the Gerald MacDonald Memorial as his family had promised US $60,000 in his memory. Fr Patrick Byrne, Assistant Superior General, describes the purpose of the house in a letter written to a benefactor in 1930:
“I presume you understand just what a “rest house” is, but in case you may not, I might explain that it is our custom for missioners to spend several months either in one particular station in the Interior, or visiting various stations, and after months of this, including as it is today, more or less precarious travel, because of bandits and Bolshevists, as well as poor food and all sorts of delightful company like fleas and such, a vacation of a couple of weeks at the rest house, looks more or less like a million dollars. These rest periods mean much towards maintaining the morale of the men, and consequently contribute in no small part to the effective work done by them.”
The architect describes the proposed building as follows:
“Chinese architecture is very much like the Chinese language – each district has an expression all its own. Therefore in the design of the new retreat house, the local architectural expression has been made to dominate, slightly modifying it by suffusing it with simplicity, the dignity and the monumentality of the Peking Palace buildings, which no other architecture really excels in these qualities.” It maintains these qualities even today. The Stanley House was declared “a cultural asset” by the Hong Kong government in the 1990s; one of the few vestiges of Chinese architecture left in Hong Kong. In 2007, the 75-year lease expired, and Maryknoll was informed that such leases would continue to 2047.
For unexpected financial reasons in December, 1933 Father General cabled; “Radical changes imperative. Hold off building.” Fr. James Drought, Vicar General, came to Hong Kong to scale down the building and wrote back to the Superior General: “Took off the top- storey, the pavilion and covered walk and the long stairway approach.” The total cost of the modified building, plus the land was approximately HK$75,000 of which $25,000 came from the MacDonald Fund, $20,000 from the mortgage of the Austin Rd. properties, loans from Maryknoll and from Bishop Antoine Fourquet, the Vicar Apostolic of Canton (Guanzhou).
Fr Clarence Burns, Procurator (1931-1934), was given entire charge of construction aided by Brother Albert Staubli. Construction was completed in May, 1935 – almost a year behind schedule – and Maryknollers moved in on 17th May, 1935.
USE OF THE STANLEY HOUSE
In addition to serving as a rest home for Maryknollers from the four mission areas of South China where they worked: Kongmoon (Jiangmen), Wuchow (Wuzhou), Kweilin (Guilin), and Kaying (Meixian), the Stanley House served as language school for new missioners. The three languages spoken in those areas were taught: Cantonese (Fr. Thomas O’Melia), Hakka (Fr. William Downs), Mandarin (Fr. Francis X. Keelan).
When the co-founder of Maryknoll, Bishop James Anthony Walsh died 14th April, 1936, an Extraordinary Chapter to elect a new Superior General was held in June, 1936 at the Stanley House. Bishop James Edward Walsh was elected as the Society’s second Superior General. On 30th November, 1937 Bishop Adolph Paschang was consecrated Vicar Apostolic of Kongmoon in the Chapel of Stanley by Bishop Francis X. Ford, M.M., Bishop Enrico Valtorta, P.I.M.E., and Bishop G. Deswaziere, M.E.P.
The Japanese invasion and occupation of Hong Kong in December 1941 had a profound affect on Maryknoll in Hong Kong. There were over 20 priests and Brothers living in the house together with several priests belonging to other religious orders when Hong Kong surrendered on 25th December, 1941. Eight newly ordained priests had arrived on the Yankee Clipper, a seaplane, the day before the war began. The house was in the middle of the last battle for Hong Kong which was fought on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1941. They were all taken prisoners by the Japanese troops and moved from the house to Stanley Internment Camp on 20th January, 1942. From that time until the Japanese surrender on 15th August, 1945, the house was occupied by the Japanese invaders and a sign placed at the main entrance inscribed “Imperial Japanese Government Property.”
At the termination of hostilities, Fathers Bernard Meyer and Donald Hessler were released from the Internment Camp and as quickly as possible returned to Stanley. However it wasn’t until September, 1946 that the repairs were complete, and Stanley became again the centre of activity for Maryknoll in South China.
However, this changed abruptly again with the take over of Mainland China by the Communists in 1949. For the next few years as all Maryknollers were gradually expelled from the Mainland, Stanley became a welcomed refuge and house of rest and recuperation. This was true not only for Maryknollers but for hundreds of religious of other congregations and orders as well.
In the 1950s and 1960s it also became a favorite vacation spot for the Marknollers of other
Asian regions. Convenient to get to, with a beautiful house, good food, beaches readily available and the shops filled with hard to get items, Hong Kong’s popularity grew. During this period too when priests were not allowed to go to the theatre, movies were shown every Sunday evening, which attracted not only Maryknollers but also members of other societies.
In 1959 the language school was reopened under the directorship of Fr. Thomas O’Melia and later Fr. Jim Smith. In 1968 Hong Kong became a separate Maryknoll Region, independent from Taiwan, and Stanley took on a new identity as a Regional Center House.
In the 1970s, fewer and fewer Maryknollers used the house, and while still in excellent condition, was in need of major repairs. The conclusion was to sell part of the land to a developer and use some of the proceeds to repair and renovate the house. Local architects were employed to redesign the interior of the building into two sections: the larger part to be a retreat and meeting center and the smaller part a Center House for Maryknollers. This work was completed in 1974 with 15 bedrooms and all new facilities for Maryknollers and 23 rooms on the retreat side for guests. This arrangement has been in effect for 36 years and thousands have enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, beautiful view and hospitality of Stanley.
In 1996 the Tenth General Chapter of Maryknoll was held at Stanley, exactly 60 years after the First General Chapter was held at Stanley.
Stanley has weathered well its 75 years as a procure for the China Missions, a language and rest house for missioners, as an occupied house by the Japanese Military, a retreat and conference Center, and a Center House for the Hong Kong Region of Maryknoll.