Brother Raphael Egan belonged to a family with a long association with the Christian Brothers. His mother,Mary Maher, was first cousin of the gentle Brother Gordian Maher. Two of his uncles were members of the Christian Brothers – Brother Gerald Patrick and Brother Justin Declan.
Brother Raphael was born on 3rd December 1918 in County Laois, Ireland. Three days later he was baptized and was given the names Patrick Joseph. He was second in a family of nine. One of his brothers joined the Christian Brothers as well. All five of his sisters became nuns.
The young man left for the Juniorate in Castletown on 17th August 1932. Following his novitiate, he went directly to Faithlegg for two years of Scholasticate. He was then posted to Ardee for some practical experience. In 1939, he went to De La Salle College, Waterford for teacher training. Two years later, he returned to Ardee. After teaching for four years in Ardee, he was sent to Dublin to study for a university degree.
In the late 1940s, La Salle College faced many difficulties. Resources and quality teachers were in short supply in this post-war era. Classrooms were packed with young people hungry for education. By God’s grace, Brother Raphael arrived at La Salle College in 1947 to teach the matriculation class. His students shone in public examinations.
His initial stay with La Salle College was brief. At the age of only 32, he was appointed Principal of St. Joseph’s College, Hong Kong in 1949. The staff and students considered him a great educator. He extended his care to other Brothers, priests and missionaries who were expelled from the Mainland China. He provided shelters and support to these servants of God.
Brother Raphael was recognized as an iron man with a strong body, mind and spirit. Hence in 1958, his former Director of novices, Brother Fintan Blake, selected him to become a member of a 3-man pioneer team to Borneo. Over there, Christian Brothers took over a school, which was situated in a very underdeveloped swampy area. Dogs, ducks, hens and goats roamed freely. The first morning Brother Raphael entered the Teacher Common Room, a hen hopped gracefully onto his desk. The hen laid an egg in front of him and cackled. Everyone present was embarrassed but was soon relieved with laughter as Brother Raphael commented that was the nicest welcoming gesture.
The students were academically weak and many were above average age. With his hard work and determination, the school grew in size and strength. He developed a close and lasting relationship with students, staff and the community. Brother Charles said, “He was the boss, made the decisions, results were achieved and nobody was unduly worried how they were achieved. He could be gruff, moody and sharp. On the other hand, he was kind and thoughtful in little ways as in big. He gave you a lot of rope, let you do your own thing; develop your interests with minimum interference and lots of encouragement. He was generous and people found it easy to relate with him.”
After being absent from La Salle College for 14 years, Brother Raphael returned in 1971. He was to be Principal for the coming 12 years. During his tenure, Brother Raphael made lots of innovations. In 1975, he turned the old Prefect Board, which helped the principal oversee students, into the Student Association, which represented the students. He established the Guidance Centre, Religious Centre and implemented Computer Studies in the curriculum. He allowed the old boys to use sports facilities on Sundays. Under his tutelage La Salle College grew in strength. In the academic aspect, there were 9-As scholars. In sports, La Salle College captured the Omega Rose Bowl for 10 consecutive years.
Needless to say, the greatest innovation achieved was to turn the Dome into the Quad. Brother Raphael considered that the Dome was majestic but could not meet up with needs in the coming decades to provide excellent education. His idea was approved. Work began in 1977. On Friday, 8th June 1979, the La Salle community took possession of the new La Salle College. The whole building has central air-conditioning. Sports facilities include a 50-m swimming pool, a 6-lane 400-m track, an indoor gymnasium and a full-size astro turf soccer pitch.
In 1984, Brother Raphael reached retiring age. He passed the baton to Brother Alphonsus Chee and became the supervisor of La Salle College. At the end of September 1988, Brother Raphael underwent a major operation. This marked his two-year personal Calvary. He lost his physical strength and appetite. His spirit, however, was kept strong. Brother Henry said, “He is very cheerful and bears his sufferings very bravely trying his best not to show it and sometimes even venturing into my art room in order to crack a joke. He is full of faith and very prayerful, making regular trips to the chapel when he can walk.”
Despite his ill health, he cared about students and the schools run by the Christian Brothers. Brother Kevin Byrne, the principal of St. Joseph’s Institution in Singapore wrote, “Although Brother Raphael never served in Singapore, he was a great supporter of the New St. Joseph’s Development Project. When first approached for help he said nothing whatsoever. The Brothers who knew him informed us this was a good sign. We were greatly encouraged shortly afterwards to receive a substantial donation with a few words of good wishes. About a month before he passed away he invited a wealthy property developer in Hong Kong to donate to our New SJI Endowment Fund and we were pleasantly surprised to receive a cheque of $100,000 (in Singapore Dollars). He was a man who didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve but for all that he was very thoughtful to those in need.
Brother Raphael returned to Ireland in 1990. He visited many of his relatives in Ireland despite repeated episodes of fever and hospitalization. Although he was thousands of miles away from La Salle College, his heart was with us. Brother Raphael told his family, “If I feel alright, I want to return next month to Hong Kong which has 85% of me, of my heart and soul.
On 23rd July 1990, Brother Raphael was again hospitalized. On 23rd July 1990, at 04:20, the great man left for heaven.
_____________________________________ The following information was obtained from The Catholic Archives website: http://archives.catholic.org.hk/memory/R-Egan.htm
Brother Raphael Egan joined the Brothers in Castletown, Ireland.
He was posted to Hong Kong in 1947 and took up a teaching post in La Salle College and his past pupils still speak of his kindly manner and of the new impetus he gave to their formerly boring hours in the classroom. After two years he was appointed Director and Principle of St. Joseph’s College which was still recovering from the ravages of war. He set about re-furnishing and reorganising, recruiting better teachers and encouraging the pupils to make up for the four years of schooling they has missed as a result of the Japanese Occupation.
When he left after nine years, St. Joseph had regained its former reputation of being one of the leading schools in Hong Kong.
After a lapse of some thirteen years, Brother Raphael was later transferred back to Hong Kong and took charge of La Salle College, Kowloon. He discovered that the school was over-crowded and some of the classrooms were not up to the standard he would like. He soon set his mind on a new College. We now see the result of his planning in the new College on La Salle Road, acclaimed by many to be the finest school building in Asia. Even some Brothers on holiday from famous colleges in America were heard to say “Gee, Brother, we have nothing like this in the U.S.”
One of his great assets was his candour and the hold he had over people who got to know him; they were willing to spend time, energy and where possible, money to help him to adchieve his plans. He never lost a friend and even during the painful days towards to end of this life he was constantly writing letters to rich and poor alike in Europe, Asia and America. He was always very concerned about the pupils in his school and very generous in a quiet way to those in financial need. On one occasion a little boy fell on a broken bottle near the school and received a deep gash. He was brought into the Office bleeding profusely. Brother Raphael immediately phoned an ambulance and accompanised the boy to Queen Mary Hospital. The Doctor decided that a blood transfusion was advisable. A Nursing Sister come to Brother Raphael and said there was a severe shortage of blood and if no donor came forward they would have to charge a fee. Brother immediately stretched out his arm, pulled up his slieve saying: “plenty of it here Sister.” There is no doubt but he will he remembered by many and his passing will be deeply mourned.
He was always a very deeply religious person, but it came so natural to him that it could pass unnoticed to casual observers. He had a strong devotion to the Mass and to our Blessed Lady. During his final painful months he never complained and it would seem that during much of his time alone was given to prayer. He died in Ireland on 23 July 1990.
|Contributed by:||Robert Yuen Kar Ngai (71) 2009-01-18 15:55:15|
|Description:||I was the Head Prefect of the School when Brother Raphael came to HK to take up the post of Principal of La Salle College in 1972. He was very kind to me and introduced the major reform in the structure of students’ activities – ie the formation of Student Association. I can still vividly remember that we organised several brainstorming meetings in the grand old Hall. May his kind soul rest in peace in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ.|