Fr. Pierre Tritz @ 100, Erda @ 40
Few people in this world get to be a century old. One of them is French-born Jesuit Fr. Pierre Tritz, who turned 100 last Sept. 19. The Mass and simple celebration on the 19th was cancelled because of Tropical Storm “Mario” that brought flooding in Metro Manila. The gathering is being set for another date.
Thousands of poor Filipinos who were once students as well as their families know Father Tritz because of how their lives changed for the better, because of the opportunity to be educated given them. Father Tritz, through the Educational Research and Development Assistance (Erda) Foundation which he founded 40 years ago, has enabled poor children to cross the poverty line through formal education that went alongside values formation programs that would equip them to face life head-on and become pillars of society.
Father Tritz has always emphasized: “To allow a child to go to school is to give him hope.”
Erda continues to give hope to young Filipinos who cannot afford basic education while involving countless groups and individuals here and abroad to contribute to the continuing endeavor. Erda has documented many success stories about those who made good, and also those who are giving back and paying it forward.
But Father Tritz is a story by himself (as partly told in “Father Pierre Tritz, SJ: Touching the Lives of Filipinos,” a booklet edited by Sr. Josefina Diaz, ICM). More exhaustive biographies have been written about him but they are in French (one is “Les Anti-Trottoirs de Manille: Pierre Tritz, père des enfants de la rue” by Jean Claude Darrigaud).
The eldest of seven children of Nicolas Tritz and Marie Thimer, Pierre was born in the village of Heckling-Annexe in Bousonville, Nord-East of France, on Sept. 19, 1914. Valuing his freedom even at a young age, he was not inclined to become a priest, but the call got the better of him. He first went to a seminary in Belgium and later joined the French Jesuit Novitiate there. He had only one special request: that he would later be allowed to join the French Jesuits’ mission in China.
Aboard a slow boat, Pierre left his family for what he thought would be a lifelong mission in China. He continued his priestly formation and philosophy studies there while also mastering Mandarin and teaching in high school. He was ordained in 1947. His brother Jean also joined the Jesuits while a sister, Catherine, became a Carmelite nun who later became part of a Carmelite monastery in the Philippines.
After the communists seized control of China, religious missionaries were forced to leave. Father Tritz returned to France then went to London to learn English. After a year, he received notice that he was being assigned to the Philippines.
He was 36 when he arrived in the Philippines on Oct. 24, 1950. He belonged to the community of Jesuits who were expelled from China. He thought his stay would be temporary and that he would be able to go back to where his heart was. It was not to be. To make a long story short, his Philippine stay turned out to be for good.
Father Tritz took up postgraduate studies, worked as a chaplain in hospitals, and taught for many years in some universities in Manila. (He was my teacher in Ateneo graduate school. I was in his classes in theories of personality and psychology of careers. I remember him as soft-spoken with a distinct French accent. He sometimes shared with us his experiences with the famous Jesuit French paleontologist, author and mystic Teilhard de Chardin, who had done research in China.)
But Father Tritz, the educator, would not be campus-based all his life. His eyes were trained on a bigger landscape. Shocked by a government study on poor students’ dropout rate, he decided to go out there and address the problem. In September 1974, he founded the nonstock, nonprofit Erda Foundation that would help poor but deserving children gain access to good education. During that time, he acquired Filipino citizenship.
These past 40 years, Erda has been working closely with the Departments of Education and of Social Welfare and Development and some 150 organizations. It promotes the total development—physical, social, economic—of the young. Aside from its educational program (preschool, elementary, high school and college), it also has a family and community assistance program (livelihood, capacity-building, organizing) and special protection program for those with special needs and in conflict with the law.
In the former garbage dump known as Smokey Mountain, Erda has a program for former child scavengers that includes tutorials, healthcare, food, and alternative sources of income. The Tuklasan project provides shelter and counseling for Metro Manila’s street children aged seven to 15. Erda Tech prepares students for college and offers vocational training.
Erda began with only six beneficiaries of its Operasyon-Balik Paaralan. Over the years it has helped in the education of some 800,000 young people. Local and foreign, corporate and individual donors have made Erda’s nationwide outreach possible.
The lists of Erda’s accomplishments and of Erda’s and Father Tritz’s awards and recognition here and abroad are quite lengthy. What Erda has done cannot all be told in this little column space, but those interested to reach out may visit www.erdafoundation.wordpress.com or e-mail [email protected]
Recently I was at the Erda building on Linaw Street in Quezon City to meet up with Father Tritz and the staff. Except for some memory lapses and slowness in his gait and speech, he appeared to be in fine form. On his desk was a reminder that he was soon turning 100.
What a great Frenchman, what a great Filipino. Vive le Père Tritz, mabuhay si Father Tritz!
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