Fr. James Reuter, SJBy Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Much has been said about the life and accomplishments of Fr. James Reuter. It is not easy to improve on or repeat in a better way what has already been said or written about him. Hence, let me just say a few words about him not as the public persona known to many Filipinos but simply as a Jesuit.
I believe that you do not have a full picture of him unless you also look at him simply as that, Jesuit. He was a Jesuit before anything else. It was, after all, his decision to join the Jesuits as an 18-year-old high school graduate of St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey that launched him on his Philippine adventure.
Father Jim’s Jesuit life started in 1934 in St. Isaac Jogues Novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. As a young Jesuit novice he must have found inspiration in the stories about the heroic lives of the North American martyrs, Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and companions. These Jesuits brought God to the wilds of North America and were martyred under the most cruel circumstances.
It was during his novitiate that he underwent the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the soul-wrenching and soul-cleansing experience every young Jesuit must undergo. Four years later, while on a boat to Manila, he must have felt like the North American missionaries about to bring God, not to the Indian wilds of North America but to the Philippines, only to realize later, as he said, that, instead of bringing God to the Philippines, the Philippines brought God to him. In fact, the only wild Indians he encountered in the Philippines were high school boys of Ateneo de Manila where he was assigned to teach Latin and English.
During World War II he, together with other Americans, was herded by the Japanese armed forces to a Los Baños concentration camp. He wrote a highly entertaining account of life in Los Baños, parts of which, some co-inmates of his said, were apocryphal. He tells, for instance, of how the basic clothing needs of some male detainees were met with short pants tailored from the veils of American Maryknoll nuns. Father Reuter was an imaginative writer!
After release from Los Baños, he graduated to Cell Block No. 4, Muntinlupa, Rizal.
Liberation in 1945 finally brought him back to the United States and enabled him to finish his studies for the priesthood in Woodstock College, Maryland. After ordination and before going back to Manila, he had to go through what is called “tertianship,” or second novitiate, where another mandatory 30-day Spiritual Exercises are meant to cleanse whatever prideful dregs had been left by long years of study. After this he went to Fordham University for Radio and Television Broadcasting studies. His work would later find him comfortably comingling with lovely actresses. He could navigate safely in such dangerous waters, even with his Paul Newman look, because it is said of him that he had no original sin.
I first met Father Reuter when I was a high school student in Ateneo de Naga. He had just come back from the United States and was assigned to teach English and elocution in high school. Even then he was already Father Reuter—writer, dramatist, teacher, basketball coach and a marvelous storyteller, not always historically accurate but always highly entertaining. His example and the example of other Jesuits in Ateneo de Naga attracted me to join the Society of Jesus.
I met him again at Ateneo de Manila. By then I was a young Jesuit teaching English and Latin in the high school. Father Jim taught English, Latin and Theology in college, was drama and debate moderator and workshop director, ran the Family Theater Santa Zita, directed TV and radio Masses, while also coaching basketball. In other words, the Society of Jesus was getting its money’s worth out of him.
After several years, we were together again under the same roof, this time in Xavier House in Herran where I had my office as provincial superior of the Jesuits and where he had his office as director of communication for the Society of Jesus and for the Catholic bishops. This was all during martial law. He was everything for Jesuit communication and for the communication apostolate of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. From Xavier House came Radyo Bandido and the mimeographed publication Signs of the Times, which chronicled events that could not find print in the controlled media. But if Father Jim had dreams of becoming like the North American martyrs, that never happened. All he got was a short stint in military detention. But we had a lot of serious and fun moments discussing the developing events of martial law.
I have mentioned the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which every Jesuit undergoes for 30 days twice during his lifetime, and for eight days every year of his life. It is the Spiritual Exercises together with the meditation on the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ that burn into the Jesuit soul the outline of what his life should be and the inspiration that serves as the dynamo of his life. It sears into every Jesuit what is sometimes called Ignatian spirituality; spirituality, yes, but worldly, immersed and at ease in a sinful world. This is the unseen power behind the life, work and reputation of Father Reuter.
Monday last week, on the last day of the year when the world did not end, he went to join Ignatius and his brother Jesuits. He was sent off, I am told, by the singing of his loyal assistant Sister Sarah of the St. Paul Sisters. Last Saturday, he was brought to the Jesuit cemetery at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches, QC, where he now rests in distinguished if silent company.
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