(STAR) TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS By Babe Romualdez - Last week, when news of the confinement of Father James Reuter in the intensive care unit of a hospital came out, so many people sent text messages expressing concern about his health. Everybody knows Fr. Reuter has been around for so long that he has become such a familiar, comforting presence to many Filipinos who have come to love him as one of their own. His column at The Philippine STAR is one of the most widely read, and his occasional inclusion of some “Jesuit humor” in his writings never fails to elicit a chuckle or two from his readers.

In fact, I just saw him recently at an Embassy function for US Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. Although he was already in a wheelchair, he still engaged in animated conversations and was as loquacious as ever. He never fails to inspire and encourage. We’re all praying that he gets well soon and recovers from this bout with pneumonia.

Since I was in prep school at the Ateneo in Padre Faura, he was already well known. It seemed like Ateneo will not be Ateneo without Fr. Reuter. He was a well respected priest that everyone loved and looked up to. He was our retreat master for so many years and, because of his passionate way in presenting the tenets of the Catholic faith, was probably instrumental in strengthening the spiritual foundation that most of us who went to the Ateneo have today. Whenever there would be questions about our faith, we would always seek his counsel because for us – Fr. Reuter knows what’s best.

Fr. Reuter was also the director of the debating team and the popular Ateneo glee club, was also a coach of the junior basketball team and mentored the members of the drama club. His Ateneo Players became so successful and popular that they took their productions outside the school. In fact, the late actor Vic Silayan probably discovered his dramatic talent while acting in one of the plays directed by Fr. Reuter himself.

Father Jim, as he is also known, was born in May 1916 to a young German-Irish couple living in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was the eldest among five children. His father was a truck driver while his mother was a 17-year-old wife. The young James was raised in an environment that was thoroughly Catholic, even becoming an altar boy. At an early age, he was already telling his family that he wanted to become a missionary someday – to the annoyance of his father who much rather preferred him to join the army. As a matter of fact, Fr. Reuter did consider joining the army and even hoped to go to West Point Academy. He also thought of becoming a doctor, but his search for meaning in life, and his desire to do something that would have an “eternal effect” on the lives of others convinced him that he could do that better if he became a priest.

While it’s true that Fr. Reuter first came to the Philippines in 1938, he was not entirely ignorant of the country. Even in high school, he was already familiar with the Philippines – then a colony of the United States. During debates, he would argue that the Philippines should be granted independence. When World War II came and Manila was occupied by the Japanese, he stayed behind and was imprisoned along with other Filipinos. People who remember those days say he was a source of hope and encouragement especially through his songs and skits that also served to amuse the other prisoners.

It would not be an exaggeration when people say that Fr. James Reuter, though born an American, is more Filipino than many of us. He had spent almost his entire life in this country, tirelessly working to uplift the lives of the poor and most of all, helping mold the minds of young Filipinos into becoming upright men and women. He is a writer, coach, director, mentor, spiritual adviser and much more to those whose lives he had touched – including mine – but most of all, he was someone who always had a word of encouragement that always strengthened one’s hope and faith.

Fr. Reuter is a man of conviction, never afraid to go against the tide even in such controversial issues like the Subic rape case. He was the spiritual adviser of Daniel Smith, the US Marine accused of raping “Nicole,” and so it would be fair to say that he had a glimpse of the American’s character that not many of us were able to see. True to form – when the guilty verdict of Judge Benjamin Pozon came out in December last year – the priest called it an “unjust” decision that was more likely the result of emotionalism. The young Marines were tried by publicity, he said – which earned the ire of leftists and several women’s groups.

No one, however, can argue that Fr. Reuter is a much-loved and well-respected priest, so much so that even our legislators have come to recognize his contributions, having been honored with the Congressional Medal of Achievement for his “unconditional gift of love and service” for Filipinos in so many ways. Perhaps only a few remember that he was also the 1989 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism.

We all want Fr. Reuter to continue to stay with us, and we will keep praying for his recovery. At 91, one cannot live forever and we all know the good father knows when it is best for him to go. As we all used to say at the Ateneo, “Father Reuter knows best.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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