The Founding Father

In all of school history, many see the death of Father George Tribou as the most significant event. The passing of a Titan enveloped the school as darkness does day.

Fr. Tribou died on February 1, 2001, after a long battle with cancer. Many remember Fr. Lawrence Frederick announcing the simple message late in the afternoon. The chapel soon filled with students and faculty members praying for the soul of Fr. Tribou and for the soul of Catholic High. The school depended on Fr. Tribou for more than 50 years to serve as principal, teacher, and rector. No other priest or teacher had ever come close in comparison to Fr. Tribou and his work.

“The death of Father Tribou ended an era, and a new one had to start,” said English teacher Ms. Bitsi Bonner. “How do you replace Fr. Tribou? How can anyone step in and replace those shoes with his stature in the community and his reputation? You would never had thought that he would die, you just thought that he would live forever.

“As a teacher, he was always so supportive of other teachers,” said Ms. Bonner. “We knew what his expectation was, and he just let us teach in our own way. He was also a creative thinker. He had a creative personality. Whenever there was a punishment that had to be distributed to a student, he would always make the punishment fit the point. And on top of this, he was a great English teacher.

“Fr. Tribou also had a friendship with the late author Pat Conroy, who wrote The Lords of Discipline, one of the books [on the junior reading list],” said Ms. Bonner. “Father and he would exchange letters about the books Mr. Conroy wrote, and they were kind of pen pals so to speak. Father would criticize Mr. Conroy’s books because of his profanity in them, and Mr. Conroy responded basically saying, ‘That’s how I write.’ A year after Father’s death, Mr. Conroy visited the school and that was really exciting.  Father [Tribou] made many acquaintances throughout his years as a teacher, and as principal,” said Ms. Bonner.  

And indeed he did. Fr. Tribou was friends with President Bill Clinton, and in the year 2000, President Clinton arranged for Fr. Tribou to meet with the pope, now Saint John Paul II. 

A photographer documented the meeting of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton, and Fr. George Tribou. The photo caption for school publications read: “Father Tribou and two other guys.”

“When Father [Tribou] died, we had two funerals: one for the student body and faculty and one for the rest of the community,” said Ms. Bonner. “It was hard on that year’s senior class because they had lost their leader. We had the rosary, the funeral, and then the burial at Calvary Cemetery. Father was also very humble. A year after his death, we changed the name of ‘Lee Avenue’ to ‘Father Tribou Street.’ And when the mayor [Jim Dailey, Jr.], an alumnus of the school, unveiled the sign, a plane roared directly overhead, making it impossible to hear the mayor pronouncing the street’s new name,” said Ms. Bonner. “We all laughed saying Father had made the plane go overhead because he would be mortified if he knew that we had done such a thing.”

“Everyone was grieving. He was such a leader force in the school,” said Fr. Lawrence Frederick. “But we continued the school year because that is what he would want. It was a loss of someone missed by faculty and students.” Fr. Frederick took on the job of  Rector of the school, a job he continues to the present. He ran the school until the end of the semester.

 “After the school year, the bishop [ Bishop Peter Sartin] had to appoint a new principal. [Bishop Sartin] had to search the community in and out,” said Fr. Frederick. “Finally, the bishop [chose] the Diocesan superintendent Dr. [Michael] Rockers.”

“We faltered a little,” said Brother Richard Sanker. “But we had such a sure foundation that we just continued on. If you take a bucket of water, and you put your hand in, then take your hand out, the water is disturbed. But after a little while, the water becomes still. Father Tribou was like that. He submerged himself into a bucket of water completely. When he died, he was taken out of the water, and it [eventually] became still,” said Br. Richard. “We trusted in the Lord. This is really the Lord’s school. Father [Tribou] was a friend. It was difficult to see him go.” 

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