Fr. George Tither: God is Rich!

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Fr. David Januarius Tither C.Ss.R. was born on August 20, 1920, at Edendale, Southland, New Zealand. His father, William Tither was from County Kerry, Ireland.   His mother was Frances Snodgrass, the first European child born in Te Anau, at the time a backwater. Though he was officially David Januarius, he was widely known as “George”, a name bestowed on him by his contemporaries in the Redemptorist juvenate.[1]

Fr. George always dreamed of becoming a priest. He was introduced to the Redemptorists by a teaching brother in his parish, who told him that by becoming a missionary he could do more good, and save more souls.

He was professed as a Redemptorist on February 2, 1940, and ordained priest on September 9, 1945.  He was appointed to the Philippines in 1948.  He was to minister there, apart from brief home visits, for the next sixty years.

Because of his beard and chubby frame, people would call him Fidel Castro. But the kids loved to call him Santa Clause. He loved to gather the kids around him and would sit the kids one by one over his legs and let them touch his beard. Then he would teach the kids the song, “Ang mga ibon …” The kids loved him and would always follow him wherever he goes.

He preferred speaking in Tagalog than in his native English, and he was very fluent at it. He was a fast talker just as he was a fast doer.  He is known for great energy and drive. The word “No” seems to be not part of his vocabulary. He had unbounded energy and zeal in mission and vocation.  He was a zealous promoter of vocation having recruited a number of Filipino Redemptorists.  Many of today’s Filipino Redemptorists and even those who have left the Redemptorists have testified that he was a decisive influence in their lives.

He had a knack for connecting with the young especially those who attended his Vocation search-in and “Night with the Lord.” In his correspondence to them, he would always sign his letters with words like utol George (brother George) or ang iyong ka chokaran (your buddy).  Whenever any of his recruits would hesitate to enter the seminary especially because of financial problems, he would always tell them, don’t worry, mayaman ang Diyos (God is rich!). Because of George’s magnanimity in giving his time, assistance and resources to anyone, people saw in George that, indeed, God is rich!

In mission, he was a hard worker and innovator. He especially inspired the explosion of the pioneering Kilusang Ilaw (Light Movement) mission.  In 1968, George challenged his confreres to give a mission in the entire fourth district of Manila and in the process he was able to secure the approval of the archbishop and the support of the parish priests. The mission was conducted simultaneously in the parishes of Paco, Pandacan, Peñafrancia, San Andres, Sta. Ana and Pius X. The mission was called Kilusang Ilaw and ran from 4 January to 29 March 1969.

Apart from being a missionary, he was famous for being a water diviner.  He can pinpoint streams of water underground in lands that were bone-dry using nothing but a Y- or an L-shaped twig. Sometimes he would just use a rod or a pendulum.  Those sceptical of his ability to divine water were silenced when a well drilled in the spot indicated by him provided a copious flow.  His reputation at this mystical craft had apparently spread far and wide that even the Philippines’ biggest landowning families were sending for him to search for water in their vast haciendas and farmlands.  It was far cheaper to get him than consign the job to a group of earth-digging geologists from the state university.

George’s commitment to the confessional was exceptional. Even in advanced old age he devoted many hours each week to this ministry.  One penitent who had known him for years had this to say after sharing with him last year a very personal problem.  “As I looked into George’s tear-filled eyes and listened to his soft, trembling voice, I realized more clearly than I ever did before, that I was truly in the presence of a holy man, hallowed by living, loving, and compassionately walking with the poor and the suffering. “[2]

In 1990, after serving in various capacities at the Redemptorist community in Baclaran, Manila, he was assigned to the community in Legazpi City, and never really left the place, except for a few periods. He was a popular confessor and spiritual director for many of Legazpi’s faithful – clergy, religious and laity alike. He had long suffered the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease before finally succumbing to severe pneumonia.

Fr. Tither was deeply committed to his religious community.  In his final illness, when it was realized that he had only a short time still to live, he was brought back from hospital so that he could end his life among his brethren. As one who was present put it, “After he was wheeled into the living room of the community, George’s face lit up immediately.  He had come home.”[3]  On January 31, 2008 Father David “George” Tither, passed on to eternal life at the age of 87.

His death left many people grateful and inspired to seek the richness of God through the goodness and utmost holiness in their own lives. In 2015, the Chapter the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila approved the initial process of investigating the worthiness of his life for canonization purposes.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

 


 

[1] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[2] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[3] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

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