The French missionary served the least, the last and the lost until his death last year. Before his passing, the 101-year-old Jesuit did have a purposeful life after having helped over 800,000 children in the Philippines through his mission.
PUBLISHED ONFeb 2017
While holding teaching posts at various universities in Manila, Fr. Tritz learned about the high rate of dropout in public schools. To start in making a dent in the alarming statistics, he supported six students and provided them with school supplies and uniforms under his Operasyon: Balik-Paaralan (OBP) (Operation: Back to School) project. The number of scholars grew to 200 when Fr. Tritz formally established the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation in 1974.
With the passing of time, Fr. Tritz came to realize the need to build a school after donors complained about how the equipments were not being used or properly maintained. What started out as a project to send impoverished students to school morphed into a mission of supporting children through vocational high school so they could learn technical skills that they can use to secure employment after graduation.
The school started in 1994 with 201 children, in Pandacan, Manila. At 80 years old, Fr. Tritz was chosen as the first principal of the five-year technical high school named ERDA Tech Foundation or simply referred to as ERDA Tech where poor students get technical-vocational training.
ERDA Tech students were also given strong values formation through Christian education provided by the school’s Jesuit volunteers from Xavier School. “The only way for the very poor to break the vicious cycle of poverty is to get proper education and skills training,” Fr. Tritz used to say.
The tireless missionary
The French priest also established the Foundation for the Assistance to Hansenites (FAHAN) in 1976 to aid leprosy patients and provide educational assistance to their children. In 1995, he set up the Albert Schweitzer Association Philippines (ASAP) to assist children in conflict with the law.
The ERDA Foundation, ERDA Tech Foundation, FAHAN and ASAP were consolidated under what is now referred to as the ERDA Group, which Fr. Tritz led as its president since its establishment.
Jesuit-run Xavier School took over the management of ERDA Tech in 2009 to ensure the continuity of the school’s operation given Fr. Tritz’ degrading health condition. The ERDA Tech was eventually renamed as Fr. Pierre Tritz Institute-ERDA Tech. Fr. Tritz’s 102nd birthday would have coincided with another milestone in the ERDA Tech’s history but the Lopez family’s donation of a five-hectare lot for the future location of the Fr. Pierre Tritz Institute-ERDA Tech in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, was formalized without his presence. The five-hectare lot lies next to the First Philippine Industrial Park, where ERDA Tech students would proceed to undergo on-the-job training and eventual employment.
Continuing Fr. Tritz’s legacy
The new ERDA Group president, Fr. Aristotle Dy, S.J., said the graduates of ERDA Tech continue to inspire them to preserve Fr. Tritz’s legacy. “Marlon Rueda belonged to the first batch of ERDA Tech graduates in 1999. It is people like him who inspire me to keep working for the attainment of the ERDA Tech vision.”
Fr. Dy admits having big shoes to fill after assuming Fr. Tritz’s role but he shares what keeps him motivated to continue Fr. Tritz’ noble work among the poor.
What are the quotes you easily recall from Fr. Tritz that instantly motivate you in continuing his herculean work?
When I think of all the people who have helped and continue to be available to help, I become more confident that the mission of Fr. Tritz can continue to be carried out. He always said that “the only way for the very poor to break the vicious cycle of poverty is to get proper education and skills training.”
When I consider this statement of Fr Tritz, I feel that we are in a unique position to form future leaders for our country not only by educating the upper middle class at Xavier School but also the youth from the lower income sectors so that they can have better opportunities in life.
What’s next after building the Tech-Voc Senior High Schools in Sto. Tomas, Batangas and in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental?
The plan of ERDA Tech to be an excellent Jesuit Tech-Voc Senior High School will occupy us for many years to come. We are only in the beginning stages of setting up our new campus in Batangas, and the school will grow gradually as we attract more students and generate resources to educate bigger numbers. For example, we are planning an intake of only 160 students in our first year, but we want to reach a point where we can take in 500 students each year. This will require massive capital investments.
Inspired by the ERDA Tech model, the school to be set up by Xavier University in Phividec, Misamis Oriental, is another major project to make tech-voc education available to the youth of the Visayas and Mindanao, so that they can be gainfully employed without going to college.
Fr. Tritz was not only a priest and a missionary but a Jesuit. What is the core Ignatian charism that he has embraced in his life?
One way of understanding the Jesuit contribution to the mission of the Church is that we “go where there is greatest need.” Pope Francis has described this as a movement to the frontiers or to the peripheries where people are most in need, and I think this is the Ignatian charism that Fr. Tritz has modeled through so many decades of his life.
What made Fr. Tritz unique from other Jesuit missionaries in the Philippines, in China or all over the world? What can other Jesuits learn from his example?
He felt a personal vocation to serve in China but, when that became untenable, he was ready to transfer his efforts to the poor of the Philippines. Many missionaries would be just as flexible but Fr. Tritz was unique in the way that every person is unique. We can all learn to be like him in his docility to the Holy Spirit, reading the signs of the times and responding in a very committed way.
What are Fr. Tritz’s characteristics that make him a candidate to be the next saint?
The holiness of Fr. Tritz was evident in his personal life of prayer, in his devotion to the Mass, and the way in which this spiritual dimension animated his work for the poor. In the face of many practical difficulties, he would always say that “God will provide.” His deep and abiding faith in a God who will make a way for His people makes him a model of sanctity.
How is Fr. Tritz similar to newly-canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta?
Many people compare him to Saint Mother Teresa because they were very similar in loving and caring for the poor. Fr. Tritz once said, “I cannot see a child that is hungry, dirty, or suffering without being disturbed.”
Of all the graduates of ERDA, whose story had moved you the most and why?
Marlon Rueda belonged to the first batch of ERDA Tech graduates in 1999. After he finished grade school, he was brought by his mother to the newly-established ERDA Tech. He specialized in food trades and, by dint of hard work, applied for a kitchen job at a posh hotel after graduating from ERDA Tech. He became a regular employee there on his own merits. Later, he applied with Magsaysay Maritime Corporation and trained again to learn various cuisines. He became a Chef de Partie and now supervises his own staff, working in a very international environment. He acknowledges that without ERDA Tech, he could not have improved his and his family’s life. It is people like Marlon Rueda who inspire me to keep working for the attainment of the ERDA Tech vision.
If Fr. Tritz were still alive today, what do you think would he be planning on doing?
If he were still in active ministry, I would imagine him adapting his plans to the new K-12 reality in Philippine education, especially the plan to make his school responsive to the new opportunities that have arisen.
Individuals interested to support the scholarship program of Fr. Pierre Tritz Institute-ERDA Tech can reach the school principal, Mr. Marc Magsalin, at email email@example.com.