Last Saturday evening, September 10, 2016, I received a text message from Mrs. Rowena Dela Cruz, whom the ERDA Tech community fondly calls “Miss Owen”, saying that Fr. Pierre Tritz had just passed away. With just a few more days before his 102nd birthday, and in the midst of all the preparations for Founder’s Week, this was farthest from my mind, and so it was too from the minds of the other members of the school community.
Fr. Tritz, who came to the Philippines in 1950 along with other Jesuits after the communist takeover in China, and who had dedicated himself to helping the poor but deserving youth get a good education and formation, is considered as a hero, a great and admirable man of God. Hence, when news of his passing on spread, the ERDA Tech community and many others whose lives he has uplifted and touched felt immense sadness.
While the poster-making and essay-writing contests for the upcoming Founder’s Week were being held simultaneously in ERDA Tech on the afternoon of Friday, September 9, Fr. Tritz, as the community belatedly knew, was already in the hospital fighting for his life. He would eventually succumb to heart failure the following day.
On Sunday afternoon, the wake of Fr. Tritz began at Xavier School San Juan. Benefactors, partners in the mission, beneficiaries, and friends of Fr. Tritz came to pay their last respects to him who has devoted much of his life to serving the neediest sectors of society, specially the youth, by helping them to get a very good education which can in turn enable and empower them to build a bright future for themselves, their families, and other people as well.
On Tuesday afternoon, Fr. Tritz’s body was brought to the school he founded 22 years earlier, ERDA Tech. Just like in Xavier School, many came to the wake and attended the mass for him. The current students, faculty, and staff were joined by alumni from the various batches, former teachers and staff, as well as the students’ parents and friends of the community. During the mass, the letters written to Fr. Tritz by the students were offered. The seemingly endless line of people who wanted to see Fr. Tritz, as well as the good things that they were saying about him, is a clear testament to his greatness and the impact of his mission. That same afternoon, Fr. Tritz’s remains were brought back to Xavier School where nightly masses were held for him.
The following morning, the funeral mass was held at Mary the Queen Church just across Xavier, after which he was interred at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, Quezon City, where the Jesuits both begin and end their vocation. The ERDA Tech faculty and staff, the students from the ERDA Tech Chorale, Serviam, and Student Body Organization (SBO), as well as alumni, were present as Fr. Tritz was laid to his final resting place.
With a mix of joy and sadness, the annual Founder’s Day celebration organized by the ERDA Foundation pushed through at the Angelo King Multi-Purpose Center in Xavier School on Friday, September 16. Fr. William Abbott, SJ, concelebrated the mass with Xavier School and ERDA Group (ERDA Foundation and ERDA Tech Foundation) President Fr. Aristotle Dy; Xavier School Chaplain Fr. Art Borja, SJ; and Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan) President Fr. Roberto Yap, SJ.
As a gesture of their continuing commitment to the mission and vision of Fr. Tritz, the Andrew Gotianun Foundation, ERDA Tech Foundation, and Xavier University signed a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of a tech-voc high school in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental, Mindanao. This is also in response to the call of Pope Francis to the Philippine Jesuits to go to the peripheries to be of greater service to a greater number of people, which Fr. Tritz had actually been doing already several decades earlier.
Attorney Fe Fredeswinda Marzan, a member of the Council of Advisers of the ERDA Group and a long-time friend of Fr. Tritz, and Miss Dolora Cardeno, Executive Director of ERDA Foundation, shared with the group their personal experiences and encounters with Fr. Tritz. The talks were very enlightening and heartwarming as the audience learned many things about Fr. Tritz and his work which they had not known before. Very notable in the talks are the values that Fr. Tritz would time and time again remind his supporters of — those of serving the children with love and having complete trust in God that one’s goals will be accomplished no matter how great the odds are.
Loyal lay collaborators of the ERDA Foundation, as well as active partner organizations were acknowledged for their invaluable support to the mission. Students sponsored by the foundation also rendered performances during the event. They sang and played xylophones. During lunch, the ERDA Foundation mascots, Eday and Eduy, went around the tables, waving at the people and having photos taken with them.
Fr. Pierre Tritz lived his life fully. His mission has helped countless children, and it will go on because his friends in the mission have been inspired and are firmly committed to help.