About Fr. Pierre T. Tritz, SJ
Born: 19 Sep 1914 (Heckling-Annexe of Bouzonville, France)
Entered the Society: 02 Oct 1933 (Florennes, Belgium)
Mission Work in China: 1936 – 1948 (Shienshien-Tientsin-Shanghai)
Ordained: 04 Jun 1947 (China)
Arrived in the Philippines: 24 Oct 1950
Granted Filipino citizenship: 19 Dec 1974
Having entered the Society at age 19 in October 1933, Fr. Pierre Tritz, SJ, spent 12 years (1936-1948) in mainland China for most of his formation doing mission work, and was ordained in June 1947 in China. He returned to Europe in mid-1948 for his tertianship, which he spent in Belgium as a high school teacher. After a year, he was preparing to return to China, but by that time the Chinese communists had overrun China and in fact had expelled the Jesuits from there. He was therefore told by his Jesuit superiors to stay put in Europe until further instructions.
A telegram from the Jesuit Philippine Provincial reached him: “Come to Manila as soon as possible.” Arriving in Manila in October 1950, he was promptly assigned as Minister of Chabanel Hall (located where the San Miguel Corp. building now stands), where the Jesuits who had been expelled from China were housed. The quonset hut, which had served as barracks for the US soldiers during WWII, was roofed with galvanized iron sheets and was so hot during summer, the Jesuit fathers and scholastics living there (among them Fr. Desautels, Fr. Parisi, Fr. Mena, Fr. Barbero) nicknamed it “Chabanel Hell.”
As Minister, he had the unenviable task of feeding the Jesuits of Chabanel Hall with limited funds. Since they were Jesuits, with their vows of poverty and obedience, among others, Fr. Tritz received no complaints when he put them on a diet of bananas for days on end.
He had wanted to learn the Filipino language, but his Provincial ordered him not to, as he was to be staying in the Philippines temporarily. He obeyed, and has been staying on temporarily for some 63 years now.
In 1952, at the request of Dr. Salvador Araneta, then president of Araneta Institute of Agriculture (AIA) in Malabon, the forerunner of Araneta University (now De La Salle Araneta University), the Jesuit Provincial assigned Fr. Tritz to AIA as Chaplain. A multitasking Jesuit, he soon became not only the campus Chaplain, but English teacher, student counselor and dorm prefect.
While still with AIA, he enrolled in the Ateneo Graduate School in Loyola Heights, where he obtained a Master’s degree, major in Psychology and Guidance, in March 1960. He taught at the Ateneo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (1961-1973) as part-time Professor. In 1965, he became a founding member (and life member) of the Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association, Inc. (PGCA).
After 17 years (1952-1969), Fr. Tritz left AIA to begin teaching at Far Eastern University (1969-1978) and at the University of the East (1970-1978) in the University belt of Manila as part-time Professor. He also opened a small office at the Guido Ver building in Sampaloc, Manila, where he handled psychological testing for companies. Since he was spending most of his time in Manila, he found it inconvenient to be commuting everyday from the Jesuit Residence on the Loyola Heights campus. So he requested and was granted permission by his Jesuit superiors to stay “out of community.” In exchange for free board and lodging, he took on yet another job – as Hospital (Night) Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sampaloc, Manila (1969-1978) and then, starting 1979, at the Hospital of the Infant Jesus, also in Sampaloc, at the invitation of his friend, Dr. Rolando Songco, the hospital’s owner. He still stays at HIJ as Night Chaplain, outliving his friend who passed away in 2012.
An article published in the PGCA in 1965 written by Mr. Tomas Garcia (of the Bureau of Public Schools and a founding member of the PGCA) reported on a 10-year study of the dropout situation in the public school system. Reading the article, Fr. Tritz found the dropout rates alarming, but his work commitments at that time kept him too occupied to do anything about the situation.
Sometime during the early 70’s, Elizabeth “Betty” Reyes, a Social Worker and a close friend, unexpectedly dropped by Fr. Tritz’s testing office. He told her about what had been bugging him for years since he read that 1965 article. She asked him what she could do to help. He promptly asked her to go with him to visit the nearby Juan Luna Elementary School. The school principal, understandably, was wary about these two visitors asking about sensitive matters like school dropouts. But Fr. Tritz easily convinced her of his sincerity of purpose. With the principal’s help, they selected six potential dropouts – students whose parents/guardians were too poor to get them school uniforms and needed school supplies. Using the income from his testing office, he and Betty put together a modest assistance package for each of these first six beneficiaries of Fr. Tritz’s benevolence.
In 1974, at age 60, Fr. Tritz started what he called the “Balik-Paaralan” Program, with around 200 beneficiaries. This became the flagship program of the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation, Inc. To work more effectively, he unhesitatingly gave up his French citizenship and was granted Filipino citizenship in December 1974. He tirelessly mobilized family and friends in Europe and elsewhere for funding support of his humanitarian mission which ERDA carried out through its educational assistance program and other child-focused projects for marginalized children.
The idea of a technical high school exclusively for the poor grew out of Fr. Tritz’s sustained concern for poor Filipino children. It mattered a lot to him that, while ERDA Foundation has been helping thousands of poor elementary and preschool children nationwide with their schooling needs, there was a growing number of poor children who, unable to go beyond elementary school, were at risk of being swept into the swollen ranks of out-of-school youth, with hardly any prospects of a better future.
As an intervention strategy, Fr. Tritz considered it best to provide poor but deserving young people with a high school education plus training in a technical/vocational skill. Thus equipped, graduates should be able to find gainful employment and eventually lift themselves and their families out of poverty – without barring their ambition to go on to college as self-supporting students.
After countless meetings and requisite groundwork, ERDA Tech Foundation, Inc. was established on 29 January 1993. This new foundation, with most of the ERDA Foundation board members on its board, was to oversee the building construction and eventual operation of the ERDA Technical and Vocational Secondary School (ERDA Tech) with its innovative five-year technical high school program. This was long before the Department of Education worked out its own Tech/Voc Program for public high schools, and many years ahead of its K-12 basic education program requiring six years of high school.
Located in a depressed area in Pandacan, Manila, the fledgling school began operating in SY 1994-95. ERDA Tech’s first-year student enrollees, all on sponsorship, had been recruited from among the urban poor families of Pandacan and nearby districts. Fifteen years later, in March 2009, at the request of the Jesuit Philippine Provincial, the school was formally adopted by Jesuit-run Xavier School San Juan. Now on its 20th year of operation (SY 2013-14), ERDA Tech has an enrollment of 450 underprivileged but deserving students. Many fortunate ones are on sponsorship; the school is still seeking and working out sponsorships for the rest. To date, it has graduated close to 1,400 scholars, thanks to its generous benefactors and committed faculty and staff who believe in and support Fr. Tritz’s educational mission.
Fr. Tritz, now President Emeritus of ERDA, still goes to his office at ERDA Foundation everyday, often arriving ahead of some of his staff. He receives visitors there now and then, spends most of his hours reading, takes a “power nap” after lunch, and leaves his office by around 4:30 pm to return to HIJ. A simple, routine schedule, to be sure, but one that keeps him surprisingly fit, for a 99-year-old. By his very presence, he continues to inspire the members of the ERDA community and those who know him, and who cherish him.