Duarte de Sande, SJ – The Multicultural Agent (Part 3)

Continued: Duarte de Sande, SJ – The Multicultural Agent (Part 1)
Duarte de Sande, SJ – The Multicultural Agent (Part 2)

Great Figures of the Missionary Work

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In the third part of our essay let´s follow the footsteps of Duarte de Sande in the City of God´s Name, as Macau was known since its foundation, in 1557. Or, at least let´s try to know a bit about it because, unfortunately, documents on the subject don’t abound. We know that, for example, the Jesuits immediately started to study Chinese. In 1589, a year before the publication of his book De Missione Legatorum, he was cited as having sufficient knowledge of the language spoken throughout the already huge Middle Kingdom. We also know that three years later, in 1592, Sande was teaching Chinese to the Portuguese priests João da Rocha and João Soeiro, and Portuguese language to several young local boys. When we speak of Chinese we mean Mandarin, as that was already the official language of the Empire.

Since Francis Xavier´s time, it is well known that it was essential to study the local language. It is through the Mandarin that you can get to places of interest; that you can establish a network of contacts, the so called guangxi, which in China play a key role. These contacts were essential for travel there at that time, a task reserved for a few only, one must say. And that is precisely what the missionaries will do onwards, with slow and firm steps, opening doors, one after the other, that will allow them to settle later on in Beijing.

Before getting any further in our story, is important to point out one thing: Duarte de Sande was a well-prepared priest who studied Philosophy and Theology at Coimbra University, one of the most prestigious institutions of that time. Later on, as a professor, he taught Latin and Rhetoric, also in that city, as was customary. Besides that, nothing more substantial is known about his academic life. Fundamental research on the subject is lacking.

Duarte de Sande remains a little known individual. And this is a problem that applies to Portuguese Jesuits in general. There are very poorly-studied personages, although they were very interesting, even key ones. So, for lack of study, they are now referred to as simple street signs or faded inscriptions on a tombstone. The courtyard of the house of the Society of Jesus is surrounded by such gravestones (and also some pillars of the old College of St. Paul). I got to know more about Duarte de Sande’s saga on the Pearl River Delta by talking to Father Luís Sequeira, for many years the congregation’s superior and one of the few Portuguese Jesuits in Asia.

“Already in 1572, according to several documents I consulted, the first missionaries started with a school where they taught local children to read, write and count. First in Portuguese; later on in Latin,” recalls Father Sequeira.

There was, in fact, a primary and secondary school that slowly evolved into a college.

“Ten years later,” continues the Jesuit, “what was once a tiny school, became almost a college attended by over 200 students.”

The result of this activity is reflected today in the many existing Christian schools in Macau. Their students grown in number such that, during rush hours, they literally block some pedestrian areas of the city. Just watch them at the entrance of Santa Rosa de Lima college, nearby São Francisco´s garden.
The natural evolution of teaching and increasing number of students and higher levels of demand would result in the creation of the College of St. Paul, in 1594, which would have precisely Duarte de Sande as first Rector.

We can rightly call that educational institution a University College. It initially started in 1594 and was officially formalized in 1597. In its curriculum we could find academic offerings of humanities, arts, philosophy and theology.

“With the founding of the College of St. Paul, the Jesuits got, in fact, two official residences. The college itself, and, on the other hand, the original residence, called Mother of God, more connected to the community necessities, probably more linked to the pastoral care of the earthly needs and all that,” informs Father Sequeira.

This more institutional residence was, on the first triennium, from 1594 to 1597, under the purview of Duarte de Sande, and had a remarkable community of teachers and students, not only from Macau but also from abroad.

“There were here in Macau, at that time, scholastics and graduating students from Japan and, later one, also from India. St. Paul College became very soon a well-known international University. The first of its kind in all South East and Eastern Asia,” stresses Luís Sequeira.

Teaching was for sure one of the most important tasks of missionaries such as Duarte de Sande, but besides that there many other activities, such as residence management, and specially social concerns and notable charitable activities, an old and comprehensive tradition among Jesuits.

“I´m sure Duarte de Sande was a concerned priest, focusing on the apostolic work. Obviously he would have dedicated himself to community service, as Jesuits usually do. It´s that dimension which gives meaning to our own life,” says Father Sequeira.

PHOTO by Joaquim Magalhães de Castro
CAPTION: Learning the official language of China was the first concern of the Jesuit missionaries.

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