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Father George William Tribou was an influential figure in Catholic educational and community affairs in Arkansas, primarily through his position as principal and rector of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock (Pulaski County).
George Tribou was born in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 1924, to George and Mary Tribou. His father was an electrician, and his mother was a waitress; he had two sisters. After high school, he entered seminary in Philadelphia and completed the equivalent of a college curriculum. Area seminaries in the Northeast were rather crowded, so he relocated to St. John Catholic Seminary in Little Rock to complete his education for the priesthood. He was ordained as a Catholic priest on September 1, 1949.
His first assignment was as pastor of the mission in Sheridan (Grant County). He also served as assistant editor to The Guardian, the predecessor of the diocesan weekly newspaper Arkansas Catholic. Among collateral duties, he was chaplain for St. Vincent Infirmary and St. Joseph Orphanage. He was also chaplain for the Carmelite Monastery of St. Theresa, a position he continued throughout his career. He alternated with another priest to conduct mass for the nuns every morning.
In 1950, the bishop assigned him to teach at the Catholic High School for Boys, then located at Roosevelt and State streets. He taught various subjects, primarily English. During summer vacations, he studied and received a master’s degree from Villanova University and also studied at Temple University in Philadelphia and Catholic University in Washington DC. He continued to teach English classes throughout his career at Catholic High.
In 1961, Catholic High was moved to a new, large campus on Lee Street. Tribou was named principal and rector of the school in 1966. He taught in the school for fifty years and was principal for thirty-four years. Early in his teaching career, he established a reputation for being strict and demanding, but also kind and helpful to his students with academic or personal problems.
Under his leadership, Catholic High was noted for academic success and strict discipline, including a dress code requiring acceptable haircuts, khaki pants, white shirts, and neckties. Several of the alumni returned in later years to become teachers at the school and carried on the traditions that Tribou established.
Tribou was a friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, though they differed greatly on the issues of abortion and capital punishment. In 1999, President Bill Clinton made arrangements to introduce Father Tribou to Pope John Paul II, who was visiting St. Louis, Missouri. Clinton told the pope, “He’s the premier educator in the state. This is my very good friend, but he doesn’t vote for me.” A photo of the three men put on display at Catholic High was labeled: “Father Tribou and Two Other Guys.”
Tribou had a habit of cigar smoking (though he was the only one allowed to smoke at the school), and his students could predict his classroom visit because the cigar odor preceded him. His dog accompanied him in his frequent trips around the school halls. Known for both his wit and his wisdom, Tribou was a popular master of ceremonies and speaker at meetings.
Tribou was given the honorific title of monsignor in 1993 in recognition of his many contributions to his church. While flattered by the honor, he said he preferred to be known as “Father,” lest he seem too remote from his boys, and most people continued to call by the familiar “Father.”
Tribou died on February 2, 2001, after a battle with cancer. His funeral was held at Catholic High School in the gym with a service in the morning for students and their families and one after school for the public. The gym was filled at each service. In the eulogy, Monsignor Gaston Hebert said, “It is my contention that no other priest in the history of our diocese has so influenced as many lives in such a permanent fashion as this remarkable, great priest. He was the right man in the right place at the right time.” After his death, the section of Lee Street on which Catholic High is situated was renamed Father Tribou Street.
For additional information:“Father George W. Tribou, 1924–2001.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 6, 2001, p. 6B.
Moran, Michael J. Proudly We Speak Your Name: Forty-four Years at Little Rock Catholic High School. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2009.
Oman, Noel. “Father’s Flock Says Goodbye.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 7, 2001, pp. 1B, 12B.
———. “Tribou, 76, Dies of Ills after Surgery.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 3, 2001, pp. 1A, 10A, 11A.
Rains, Judy. “George William Tribou.” Arkansas Democrat, August 13, 1989, High Profile Section, pp. 1, 9.
W. W. Satterfield Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 12/7/2017
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