A few Jesuits came to Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge regime, mainly to serve the Chinese Catholic community in Phnom Penh but there was no official Jesuit mission in Cambodia until after the peace agreements were signed in 1991.
However during the 1980s, Fr. Pierre Ceyrac S.J., a French Jesuit priest and long-term missionary from India came to serve the Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees and displaced people living in camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. He led a team of local and international volunteers to provide social and educational services in those camps. This was the first Jesuit involvement with education of young Cambodians and with teacher formation.
In the early nineties, Sr. Denise Coghlan, a Mercy Sister from Australia led the Jesuit Refugee Service move into Cambodia and established a vocational training Centre for the war-disabled at Banteay Prieb near Kompong Speu in Kandal province. Sr. Marie-Jeanne Ath, a Khmer Providence Sister, established a community rural development program from the same centre.
Once the political situation in the country stabilized, a new NGO, Jesuit Service Cambodia was established to allow all our energies to be focused on helping Cambodia develop its social and educational services.
In 1993, Fr. Ashley Evans S.J., began to teach Mathematics in Khmer to future teachers at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Over twenty years, Fr. Ashley, helped translate 22 higher level textbooks from English into Khmer and facilitated scholarships for Cambodian teachers and students to Jesuit universities abroad such as the Ateneo De Manila in the Philippines and Sogang University in South Korea. In 2007, Fr. Ashley began also to teach the History of Philosophy at the RUPP to future teachers and supervised the translation of four Philosophy textbooks from English into Khmer.
On the 17th of October 1996, a young Filipino Jesuit, Br. Richie Fernando S.J. was killed by a hand-grenade dropped by an angry student at the Banteay Prieb Vocational Training Centre. Richie held the student from behind to prevent him throwing the hand-grenade into a room full of other handicapped students. He was the only person seriously injured in the explosion. He died at 26 years of age. He is an inspiration and model for all the other Jesuits working in Cambodia.
In 2000, His holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Enrique Figaredo (Kike) S.J., a Spanish Jesuit priest as the Apostolic Prefect of Battambang. This prefecture includes the provinces of Pursat, Kompong Chnang, Kompong Thom, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Oudar Meanchey and the city of Pailin. Jesuits and partners have been involved in social and educational programs in all these areas.
In 2002, the then Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, his Excellency Mr. Im Sithy opened a hostel for poor university students in Phnom Penh supervised by the Catholic Church. Fr. Ashley served as Director of this Catholic Church Student Centre for many years. Many graduates from this Centre are now serving as teachers in schools around Cambodia.
In February 2011, Fr. Gabriel Byong-yong Je S.J., the Korean Jesuit superior of the Mission in Cambodia invited all Jesuits and partners to reflect on the problems of education in Cambodia and to suggest better ways to serve the educational needs. On the 18th of November 2013, his successor, Fr. Francisco Indon Oh S.J., concluded the reflection process by deciding that our new education project should be situated in Banteay Meanchey province where there are many poor children and not many other NGOs working in the education field.
He appointed Fr. Ashley Evans S.J. as Director of this new education project.