謝天仁神父(Father Lionel Xavier) 在一九三零年七月三日於香港出生。因為謝神父的外表看似東方民族，相信有好些人會以為他是來自中國或其他鄰近地區；其實謝神父是來自一個多種民族的家庭，他說：「其實我也對自己的血統十分好奇，所以我曾經翻查所屬教會的紀錄，但經多番找尋後，我只查到我的祖父為一葡萄牙人，而我祖母則來自帝門(Timor)或其鄰近地區。然而，在教會內的紀錄中我郤找不到我母親家族血統的紀錄，我只知道我的外祖父是一名英國人，而外祖母則來自果阿(Goa)，因此我並不清楚我哪位袓先是中國人。」
在一九五六年謝天仁神父正式加入聖雅拔大修道會進修拉丁文及西班牙文。在一年後他便接受道明會聖召分辦當見習期修道士，亦開始在聖雅拔大修道會接受七年的宗教理論和哲學等教育。在聖雅拔修道院的九年期間，謝神父十分享受與其他修士一起的修道生活。雖然他大部份時間都用於研究各天主教文獻上，但因謝神父本身是一位體育的愛好者，所以他還會在餘下的時間參與多種不同的運動，如曲棍球、壘球、羽毛球等。在一九五九年謝神父便正式申請矢發終身聖願，終身成為修士。其後在一九六零年至一九六三年，謝神父被送往菲律賓大學(University of Sto. Thomas)繼續修讀三年的宗教理論。值得一提的是本校另一神父Fr Mendoza亦是謝神父在菲律賓大學進修時的其中一位教授呢。
謝神父可以說是玫瑰崗學校的活字典，他跟筆者分享玫瑰崗學校的起源：「在很久以前，道明會在香港是擁有頗多土地的，例如現在玫瑰新邨的地段、現在尖沙咀的美麗華酒店的地段和尖沙咀區的多幅土地等。我還記得開辦玫瑰崗學校的江樂士神父當時認識一位名叫楊志雲的男子，楊先生當時在我校首任學校秘書Ms Shirley Tsui的父親的公司只是任職一名秘書。當時楊先生經江神父的幫忙購得尖沙咀美麗華酒店的地皮而賺了一筆很可觀的盈利；其後當他知道道明會有意將聖雅拔大修道會搬離香港，並在相同地段開辦一所學校時，楊志雲先生便向江神父商討購買聖雅拔修道院原址的一部份地皮，條件除了向道明會支付一筆售價外，他還向道明會承諾免費興建整幢學校校舍，江神父最後亦接受楊先生開出的條件。所以，江樂士神父在楊志雲先生成功的事業中佔有一個十分重要的位置。楊志雲先生後來也創辦了本港有名的景福珠寶金行。」
當被問到回顧多年在玫瑰崗的日子裡，謝神父可有對哪些人有特別深刻的印象。他回答：「首先，我想在此特別向當年創立玫瑰崗學校的江樂士神父致謝。我十分多謝他當年對我的無比信任，讓我有充足的自由度去隨著我的意願去管理中學部。另外，當然有多位是在創校初期跟我一起渡過不少難關的好同事，例如：林麒偉（Mr David Lam），當年因為他幫我管理中學部學生的紀律，我在那方面便全完不用擔心。記得當年社會年青人都視長頭髮為時尚的象徵，他某一天居然在市區請一位理髮師回來學校即場為數位校內長頭髮的男同學剪頭髮，這件事可說是十分有趣呢。」
另外，謝神父還記得另一位已故的演藝界校友 ﹣ 翁美玲，「我記得有一天她向學校查詢可否讓她在校舍內拍攝一下她成長的地方。我告訴她學校隨時歡迎她回來的 。」
除了上述兩位舊生外，當然還有很多位校友謝神父一直還記得他們：「例如：施熙德(Edith Shih)在多年來一直十分支持玫瑰崗；自然療法醫生-袁大明醫生（Dr Alexander Yuan)；一位曾經在玫瑰崗就讀的神父﹣林祖明神父(Fr Eddie Lam)；另一位在不久前離世的舊生﹣馮紹禹(Bernard Fung),他亦一直十分支持我們；舊生Danny Wong在多年前慷慨地向學校捐贈大量冷氣機；Dr James Cheng和容樹恆醫生﹣就我的健康問題時常要勞煩他們；還有多位中學部與我共事多年的同事如關治邦老師、劉連芳老師、陳漢欽老師、郭健基老師、徐耀祥老師、吳仕聲老師、林寶英老師、蘇彩研老師、陳建彬老師等。另外，我亦想在此感謝在玫瑰崗服務多年的學校秘書Ms Betty Leung和校車部前總管徐亢。當然還有歷任玫瑰崗舊生會主席呢。」
在二零零七年，謝天仁神父接到一項新任務 ﹣ 在澳門重開的聖雅拔修道院任學生監督。他主要的工作是培訓新一代的修士，為未來晉鐸成為神父作準備。謝神父說：「我實在很高興能讓我再過我嚮往的宗教社區生活，這亦是我當初當神父的主要原因。其次，我對我能參與培訓修士的工作感到很高興，因為他們才是我們未來的骨幹。」
When the Son of Rosaryhill was born….
Father Lionel Xavier was born in Hong Kong on 3rd July 1930. When we asked Father Xavier why if traces of Chinese genes could be found from his appearance, he said ‘I am not too sure. I am also very curious. My father’s father was a Portuguese and his wife was either from Timor or one of the Far East countries. Actually I had tried to search through the church records since I also suspected that I should have some Chinese blood in the family, but I could only locate the records that referred to my grandfather’s family but not my mother’s; I only know my mother’s father was an Englishman and his wife was from Goa; therefore, I have no idea which of my ancestors was Chinese.’
Father Xavier was born in a fairly big family with 6 children. ‘My father was a marine engineer so his job required him to travel between Hong Kong, Macau and Canton all the time. I have two older brothers and three older sisters. Since I was the youngest child in the family, my brothers and sisters always treated me very well.’
Father Xavier spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong. He used to live in nice building on Jordan Road with his family. He spoke mainly Portuguese at home with his family and he mainly spoke English in La Salle College where he received his education up Form Six level, which explained why Fr Xavier could not speak fluent Cantonese even though he spent most of his life in Hong Kong. He did not learn the local language formally until he decided to take a Chinese language course at the New Asia College in the Chinese University of Hong Kong when he first became Rosaryhill School’s Father Principal. ‘At one stage I could write and read reasonably good level of Cantonese, but unfortunately I had to stop my Chinese lessons after a short period of time because of the School’s demanding duties then my Chinese proficiency gradually deteriorated ever since I dropped out of the course. I have always regretted that I never got to resume my Chinese lessons’, Father Xavier said.
After having finished his secondary education in La Salle College, Father Xavier started working as an auditing clerk in an accountancy firm called Lowe, Bingham & Matthews, but Father Xavier said actually his interest was in dentistry at that time but it was because his father would not allow him to go to the Philippines for dentistry education (it was "the country" where most people in Asia would study Dentistry), he then chose accounting to be his career. During the 7 years he was working at Lowe, Bingham & Matthews, Father Xavier finished two levels of the professional accountancy examinations (ACCA).
Joining the Catholic community
Father Xavier was baptized soon after his birth. He was sent to a kindergarten that was run by St Mary Church in Tsim Sha Tsui. His mother was a devoted Catholic as well so Father Xavier had always been a regular church goer since he was very young.
Many people might wonder why Father Xavier suddenly decided to become a priest when he seemed to have a very promising career ahead of him? Father Xavier said he remembered the very first thing that the Dominicans attracted his attention was a Dominicans’ badge which his friend was wearing on chest one day. ‘I asked him what the badge was all about and he told me that it was a symbol of the Dominicans. My friend then introduced me to join the St Albert Priory’s Third Order. It is a Catholic organization for lay people who want to improve their spiritual lives. The Third Order’s meeting was always held on Sundays at St Albert’s Priory which was a monastery on Stubbs Road where Rosaryhill School is now located. To be honest, my first reaction to my friend’s suggestion was that I thought he was crazy since he suggested me to spend my only holiday in the week on religious meetings. However, out of curiosity, I still went along to sit in the meeting with my friend and during the meeting I found it a lot more interesting than I had thought,’ he said.
According to Fr Xavier, the next thing that drew attention was the black and white clothing of Catholic priests. After having attended the Third Order meetings for a while, he felt that he wanted to take one more step forward and he started thinking about taking priesthood since he thought the simple life of priests would allow him to devote himself entirely on spreading the good news of God. At that time he was already a member of the Legion of Mary, a Catholic organization with an aim to teach religion within the parish.
Apart from the promising accountant career, another thing that he had to give up was his girlfriend at that time. ‘I met her in a community hall which was funded by the donations to the Catholic Young Men’s Association and that community hall is still standing next to Rosary’s Church in Tsim Sha Tsui today. I was already twenty-four years old when I first met her. She was also from a Portuguese and Macanese family so our background had a lot of things in common. We were merely dating at the time so we had no plans to get married yet. She was certainly very surprised when I first told her about my intention to become a priest but she was very understanding and she took it very well since she was also a devoted Catholic herself’. On the other hand, Father Xavier’s parents found the news more than shocking and quite difficult to accept. ‘My mother cried heartbrokenly as if I was going to die but I assured her that I would be even closer to the family after I become a priest since I would not be getting married.’
In 1956 Father Xavier formally joined St Albert’s Priory to study Latin and Spanish for a year and after that he received the official Dominican habit and he served a year of novitiate before he took a vow which followed by studying theology and philosophy in St Albert’s Priory (also called House of Studies at that time) for another seven years. During the nine years in St Albert’s Priory , Father Xavier enjoyed the religious and community life with the fellow students there very much. He spent the majority of his time on studying relevant religious documentations, and since Father Xavier was an athletic person by nature, he still managed to find some spare time to take part in different sports activities such as field hockey, softball and badminton. He joined the Order of Preachers on July 28, 1959 and subsequently between 1960 and 1963 he was sent to further study theology at University of Sto. Thomas in Philippines for three years. It is worth to mention that our School’s another priest, Fr Mendoza, was one of his professors in the University of Sto. Thomas.
After the three-year studies Fr Xavier was presented to the Bishop for ordainment and on 27th April 1963 he was officially ordained in Rosary Church in Kowloon. Subsequently Fr Xavier was assigned to teach moral theology in Maryknoll College in Manila for a year before he was asked to come back to Hong Kong to further study a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English language at the University of Hong Kong between 1964 and 1967.
Life in RHS
Although Father Xavier was already living in Rosaryhill School after 1963, he was not actively involved in any teaching or school administration until he was assigned to be the Secondary Section’s Principal in 1967 after the former Secondary Principal Father Dominic Lien left the School. ‘At first I knew nothing about running a school. I basically learned everything from experience. Most of the students at that time were very friendly, simple, sincere and easy to get along with and that made my job not too difficult to do. It was probably because of the location of our school, so most of our students had to come to school by cars or our school buses and therefore the majority of our students came from middle-class families.’
After the first batch of the Form Five graduates finished their secondary education at RHS, Father Xavier proposed to establish an old students assocation in order to allow Rosaryhill’s past students to stay in touch with their alma mater. Father Xavier said he had witnessed numerous ups and downs in RHSOSA throughout the years and he was glad to see RHSOSA has been growing steadily over the recent years. Apart from the RHSOSA, it was also Father Xavier who started the Student Council in the Secondary Section.
When we asked Father Xavier if there were any special memories he wanted to share with us about his days as the School’s Principal, he said ‘I remember at one time our School had over 6000 students and we were a little overloaded but the general standard of our students still remained quite high. The cooperation between teachers and students was incredible and the whole school was filled with positive and high spirit.’
With regard to our School’s earlier division between Boys’ Section and Girls’ Section in the Secondary Section, I asked Father Xavier why there was such a division in our School. Father Xavier said there were actually advantages to have such division, he said in fact it was a good idea since he thought such division made it easier for the School to manage discipline of the students. Moreover, at that time there was a misunderstanding by the School that the Church in Rome was against the idea of co-education, it was only until many years later when he got a chance to clarify that with the Bishop who told him that the Church was not really against co-education at all. Therefore, the School finally decided to merge the 2 sections in 2000.
Stories of Rosaryhill……
Father Xavier is no doubt the walking encyclopedia of Rosaryhill School. He shared with us some stories about the origin of Rosaryhill School. ‘In fact the Dominicans used to own a lot of land in Hong Kong in the past including the present location of Rosaryhill School, the land of next door neighour Villa Monte Rosa and many other plots in Tsim Sha Tsui area. I remember the founder of our School, Rev. Fr. Eutimio Gonzalez O.P. knew a gentleman called Yeung Chi Wan through our School’s first Secretary Ms Shirley Tsui. At that time Mr Yeung was working in Ms Choi’s father’s company as a secretary. With the help of Father Gonzalez, Mr Yeung acquired the land of the present Miramar Hotel and made a fortunate out of that transaction. Subsequently, when the Dominicans intended to turn the then St Albert’s Priory into a school after they decided to move the House of Studies to Philippines; since the Dominicans didn’t need the entire piece of land for the future school, Mr Yeung offered to buy part of the land from the Dominicans to build present Villa Monte Rosa and in addition to the price of the land, he offered to Father Gonzalez that he would also build the school campus for free and that offer was accepted by Father Gonzalez finally. Therefore, Father Gonzalez had really played an important part in Mr Yeung’s successful career. Mr Yeung Chi Wan later also became the founder of the famous King Fook Jewelry Shop.’
‘Actually the School did plan for many times to build a swimming pool with a covered school bus parking facilities below. This project almost happened but we eventually decided to drop the idea as we felt the future after the changeover of sovereignty in 1997 was rather uncertain. Moreover, we were told that it was because our school shared the same channeling of water with Adventist Hospital, and it might create considerable sewage and safety problems; therefore, the project never proceeded.’
When asked about his feelings about being the Principal of the Secondary Section for more than two decades, Fr Xavier said he enjoyed those twenty three years very much. Like many other organizations, Rosaryhill School also had faced a few challenges from time to time but there were all manageable problems.
There were a few incidents that Father Xavier can still remember today, ‘Rosaryhill had had two bomb incidents previously. Apparently a student wasn’t too happy with the School’s management so he decided to place a homemade bomb under the assembly stage and it went off as soon as the assembly was over. Fortunately nobody got hurt in the incident. The second homemade bomb was placed in the classroom the next day. Subsequently, the School had no choice but to expel the student involved in the two bomb incidents although he did seem to have some talents in chemistry or making bombs. ‘
‘On another occasion, a naughty student put some glue into the keyholes of all of the classrooms and eventually we had to change all of the door locks,’ Father Xavier said. Despite these few challenges, Father Xavier told us that he thoroughly enjoyed his time in the School and he always saw Rosaryhill School as his own baby.
Looking back to his years in RHS, Father Xavier said there were a number of people to whom he felt particularly grateful. ‘I would like to express my first gratitude to the late Rev. Fr. Eutimio Gonzalez O.P. I am always grateful to him for his trust by leaving everything in my own hands so that I was able to make my own decisions with no interference from him. There are also many others….like Mr David Lam, the prefect of discipline in the Secondary Section, he helped me a lot in managing discipline of the students. I remember he once asked a barber to come to school to provide haircut service for students who were reluctant to give up their long and inappropriate hairstyle. Another colleague who is worth mentioning is Mr Stephen Tsai. He was the ‘coordinator’ of the whole school. Basically he looked after different sections of the school and he made sure each section coordinated with one other well.’
Our star alumnus was another old student Fr Xavier knew very well. ‘Leslie Cheung used to be called Bobby in the past and he was always a very supportive Rosarian. He came back for various school activities and fundraising events whenever the School needed him to. I remember he left Rosaryhill after he finished Form Three and he was still called Bobby at that time. I used to play badminton with him very often before he left Rosaryhill. I remember Leslie and I had gone to Repulse Bay for afternoon tea many many years ago; there was just no peace during the whole time since he was always surrounded by his fans. Leslie complained to me that he could hardly enjoy any private moments anymore. Actually I ran into him on the Peak just one month before he committed suicide. I never knew he had depression problems. Had I known about it, I would have tried to contact him to see if there was anything I could do to help.’
Father Xavier also remembered another famous actress Barbara Yung. ‘She asked me for permission to come back for filming her Alma Mater and I certainly told her that she was welcomed to do that.’
Apart from the abovementioned persons, in Father Xavier’s memory, there are many more unforgettable Rosarians over the years such Edith Shih, a successful past student and a good friend; Dr Alexander Yuan, a natural therapy doctor; Eddie Lam, a student who turned to be a priest; Bernard Fung, a successful and supportive alumnus who just passed away recently; Bernard Chan, a very generous and supportive Rosarian; Danny Wong, a generous patron who donated a large sum of money for the installation of air conditioners in the school campus; a few medical doctors such as Dr James Cheng and Dr Patrick Yung, who looked after his health from time to time. Moreover, Mr Robert Kwan, Ms Cathy Lau, Mr Damen Chan, Mr Jonathan Kwok, Mr Tsui Yiu Cheung, Mr Ng Si Sing, Ms Belinda Lam, Ms So Choi Yin, Mr Chan Kin Bun were all very helpful and good colleagues to me for many years; Ms Betty Leung was another one worth mentioning. She served as the School’s secretary for a very long time; Mr Tsui Kong, the Head Driver in the School Bus Department and all of the past presidents of RHSOSA.’
In 1990 he had to take a Sabbatical leave for a year since Father Xavier had reached the required retirement age. During the year he went to various places in Canada and Australia and later between 1992 and 1993 Father Xavier was assigned to do parish work in Perth in Australia. In 1993 Father Xavier was invited to go back to Rosaryhill School and he worked there as the Principal of the Primary Section from 1993 to 1996. Between 1997 and 2004 Father Xavier served in RHS as the Head of Religion in the Religious Department. In 2004, Father Xavier was assigned by the then Father Provincial Father Bonifacio Solis to join St Paul’s College in Macau and to serve there as the Head of the Department of Religion between 2004 and 2007.
In 2007, Father Xavier was very happy to receive a new assignment from the Dominicans. He was assigned to be the Master of Students in St Dominic’s Priory. His job was mainly to offer training to young students who had decided to become priests in the future. Father Xavier told us that he was so happy to be back to the community life of Order of Preachers as it was in fact the very original reason why he took up priesthood. Moreover, he is happy about being involved in the formation of the future Dominican priests who will be the future of our Holy Rosary. Since early 2010, Father Xavier has been acting as the Assistant to Mater of Students in St Dominic’s Priory.
At last, Father Xavier shared with us a motto: ’Failure is only a delayed success. If you could learn from your mistake, you will definitely succeed one day.’
Father Xavier just celebrated his 80th birthday on 3rd July earlier this year, we here wish Father Xavier stay healthy and RHSOSA hope that we will have another big birthday celebration with him again when he reaches 90 years old!
Interviewed and written by Edward Ng
*Father Xavier’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org