Father Fritz the fighter
In the Ateneo de Manila, there is something called the Institute of Social Order, which I’ve always felt is one of the most sinister-sounding things in the country. But an article from 2011 by F. Sionil Jose on the Jesuits and his bookstore, Solidaridad, reminds us that, in 1964, when the Institute of Social Order was still in Ermita, it counted among its staff Fathers Francisco “Fritz” Araneta, John J. Carroll, Robert Hogan, and Denis Murphy, names associated with bringing Catholicism institutionally closer to the poor.
It was an apostolate viewed with suspicion not just by secular, but by religious authorities; many of these Jesuits, for example, would find their work leading them to seek a dispensation from Rome to either leave the clergy, or the Jesuit order.
This year marks the centennial of the birth of Fr. Francisco Luis Araneta y Zaragoza—Father “Fritz,” who blessed Solidaridad on its inauguration, and who left the Jesuits (later to rejoin them) after having obtained “at least two things of permanent value,” in the estimation of the late, great Fr. Miguel Bernad, SJ: the university charters for the Ateneo de Cagayan and the Ateneo de Manila.
Araneta became the first Filipino rector of Ateneo’s Manila campus, not just once, but twice. Bernad wrote in 2006 that Ateneo de Cagayan became Xavier University out of Father Araneta’s gratitude for the seemingly impossible accreditation happening; he became rector of the Ateneo de Manila for the second time when the university was being heavily infiltrated, according to Bernad, by the communists.
Bernad summed up this second period of administration as follows: “He adopted a policy not popular with many Jesuits, a policy of maximum patience and tolerance. The provocations were constant and, in some cases, almost insupportable; no retaliation or repression followed. Maximum tolerance. It was a policy that worked. The Ateneo weathered the storm. Father Araneta did not. He left the Order, a victim of his own innocence and zeal.”
Father Fritz became a secular priest ministering to the residents of the slums of Leveriza in Pasay, then lived “in a small room off the sacristy of the church” in another parish in Taguig. From there, he became a personal adviser to Ambassador Howard Dee in Rome. Dee recently compared Father Fritz to his older brother, the industrialist Salvador Araneta, saying he was also an economist and a nationalist.
In the Ateneo, he would establish the MBA program in 1960. He was even associated with O.B. Montessori, serving in its first board of trustees in 1975. Yet, for the true-blue gusto of the man, as Father Nebres recalled, Father Fritz would sing “Animo, La Salle” back in the day when opposing teams would sing each other’s songs. This was a man of a now-lost cosmopolitan yet patriotic generation, who was fond of reciting the poem “In Flanders Fields” and the Gettysburg Address which he knew by heart, but who, Bernad wrote, upon renouncing his great personal fortune, set aside a portion for the promotion of Philippine cultural studies.
At Father Fritz’s funeral Mass, Fr. Calvin Poulin, SJ, pointed out that Araneta’s return to the Jesuits required starting from the ground up as a novice again. By the time I met him, Father Fritz was already very frail, unable to even hear confessions as he used to, at the Edsa Shrine. But the spark was there. He greeted me, as many members of his generation did, upon my being introduced; he would get that faraway, heavy-with-prewar-memories look, and then pump his clenched fist in the air and say, “Fight, fight, fight!” An old lion, briefly a young cub again.
Bernad pointed to an early sign of the charism for service of Father Fritz, when a group of young Jesuit Scholastics took it upon themselves to go through the ruins of Ermita, Malate and Paco and retrieve, and bury, the hundreds of corpses of civilians killed by the Japanese in the Battle of Manila in 1945.
The church today, in many ways, has retreated to a more remote kind of pastoral approach, very different from the kind espoused by people like Father Fritz. But the current Supreme Pontiff in Rome would have found him exactly his kind of sensible Jesuit.
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