Pope Francis Appoints New Bishop of Hong Kong: Father Stephen Chow

The Vatican announced Father Chow’s appointment on May 17, more than two years after the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung left Hong Kong without a permanent bishop.

Jesuit Fr. Stephen Chow
Jesuit Fr. Stephen Chow (photo: Photo courtesy of Society of Jesus)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has appointed Jesuit Father Stephen Chow as the next bishop of Hong Kong.

Bishop-elect Chow, 61, has served as the provincial of the Jesuits’ Chinese Province since 2018. In that role, he led the Jesuit order in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China as the Vatican-China deal was first signed and during the crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy protest movement.

The Vatican announced Father Chow’s appointment on May 17, more than two years after the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung left Hong Kong without a permanent bishop.

Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 周守仁, was born in Hong Kong on Aug. 7, 1959. He studied in the United States, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota, before entering the Society of Jesus in Dublin at the age of 25.

During his Jesuit novitiate, he obtained a licentiate in philosophy in Ireland and then returned in 1988 to Hong Kong, where he was ordained to the priesthood on July 16, 1994.

Father Chow continued his studies at Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in organizational development in 1995. He spent the next five years working as a campus minister, vocations director and ethics teacher at Wah Yan College in Kowloon and Hong Kong.

In 2000, Father Chow began a doctoral program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, studying development and psychology. He graduated with a doctorate in education in 2006.

The following year, he made his final vows in the Jesuit order and worked as an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 and Jesuit formator from 2009 to 2017. He also served as the president of the Chinese Jesuit Province’s education commission since 2009 and the Hong Kong Diocesan Council for Education since 2017.

Father Chow began his role as provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus on Jan. 1, 2018.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. The people of the region have historically enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, by contrast, there is a long history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government.

With the 2020 passage of new “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law is broad in its definitions of terrorism, sedition and foreign collusion. Under the law, a person who is convicted of the aforementioned crimes will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.

On April 16, authorities in Hong Kong sentenced several Catholic pro-democracy figures, including lawyer Martin Lee and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, to prison sentences under the new security law. 

Hong Kong has been without a permanent bishop since January 2019. John Cardinal Tong Hon, who retired as bishop of Hong Kong in 2017, has served as the diocese’s apostolic administrator since then.

The date of Bishop-elect Chow’s episcopal ordination is yet to be announced. The General Curia of the Jesuit order released a statement on Bishop-elect Chow's appointment on May 17:

“The Society of Jesus recognizes that Father Stephen has been called to serve the Church during these very challenging times, and assures him of our prayer and collaboration. May the Lord bless him in this new ministry.”