Jesuit who empowered young Filipinos with technical skills

Fr Pierre T. Tritz SJ, 1914 - 2016
Fr Pierre T. Tritz SJ, 1914 - 2016

Tributes have been paid to a French-born Jesuit who devoted more than 40 years of his life to the education of poor children in the Philippines. Fr Pierre T. Tritz SJ, who died on 10 September 2016 at the age of 101, has been described as "a model of dedication" by a Jesuit studying in Britain.

Born on 19 September 1914, Fr Tritz entered the Society of Jesus in 1933. He studied and worked in China before being assigned to the Philippines in 1950. In Manila, he served as a chaplain in hospitals and taught at the Ateneo de Manila University, Araneta University, the University of the East and the Far Eastern University.

In 1974, having turned 60, Fr Tritz renounced his French citizenship to become a naturalised Filipino. He was alarmed by a report on the dropout rate of poor students, saying: “You give children an education, you give them hope.’’ He consequently went on to found the Educational Research and Development Assistance (Erda) Foundation to help poor but deserving students get a good education.

From the initial six beneficiaries of its Operasyon Balik Paaralan, Erda has so far helped over 850,000 youngsters, many of them orphans, street children and children in conflict with the law. Fr Tritz also set up the Erda Technical-Vocational School in the 1990s to provide youngsters with technical training and established the Foundation for Assistance to Hansenites and the Albert Schweitzer Association Philippines, which espouses the legal rights of child prisoners.

Fr Cristopher Fajardo SJ is a Jesuit from the Philippines who is studying in Oxford and is a member of the Campion Hall Jesuit Community. He says that when he entered the Society in 1999, Fr Tritz was already “a living legend”.

“When I was a novice, one of the standard exposure visits was to an academy/school he founded  (Erda),” he says. “It is a special school mainly for out-of-school young people whom Fr Tritz encouraged to go back to school where he provides full bursary for tuition and fees. More than 800,000 young people have graduated from this institute where they learned useful technical skills.”

A model of dedicationA computer class at the Erda Technical High School

Fr Cris says that the last time he saw Fr Tritz was three years ago, on the occasion of his 98th birthday. “It was a very touching celebration,” he recalls, “where hundreds of people – both young and old – queued up for the chance to thank him for his kindness and availability.”

Despite his dedication and service to the young Filipinos with whom he worked, Fr Tritz was not always the easiest of people to work alongside. “For the past two decades maybe, every Provincial Superior had a ‘difficult’ conversation with him,” says Fr Cris, “encouraging him to transfer to the Infirmary Community where he could benefit from better and closer care. But Fr Tritz always managed to convince his Superiors to allow him to be close to ‘his children’ in Erda where he had a simple and austere room, even to his last days.”

The Requiem Mass for Fr Pierre T. Tritz SJ will be celebrated tomorrow (14 September), followed by interment at the Jesuit Cemetery in Quezon City. “Until two days ago, he was the oldest living member of our Province,” says Fr Cris, “and every Jesuit looked up to him as model of dedication to the mission.”