Fr. James Reuter will be missed at EDSA

The Jesuits’ gift to the Philippines and the world

By Nestor Enriquez

In the 27th EDSA celebration this coming February, a pillar of the revolution will be missed: Fr. James Reuter S.J. Fr. James is also New Jersey’s biggest gift to the Philippines and then later re-gifted to the world.

The Irish-German altar boy entered St. Peter’s Preparatory School in Jersey City some 80 years ago. In his first year, he and his classmates heard stories about Jesuit missionaries on furlough from Mindanao and became interested in the Asian country.

In school, he was an all-around scholar, led his debating team to an undefeated season, argued in favor of Philippine independence in one debate. He graduated as the class valedictorian and he could have chosen an Ivy League school or West Point, but instead went to the Philippines as a novice priest after his novice training in Philadelphia. This was his mission in life, he said. On July 4, 1938 he was aboard the ship anchored in Manila. For the rest of his life he was a Filipino resident.

EDSA in 1986 would not happen without Fr. James. He created the Veritas Radio that became the soul, the communication line of the revolution. In 1989, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. Up until his demise, the Hudson native continued crusading from his wheelchair in Manila.

His influence started way before the 1986 EDSA uprising against the Marcos Dictatorship.

In 1941, he was assigned to teach sophomores at Ateneo de Manila in the mornings, and, in the afternoons, help produce the Catholic Church’s popular Sunday night radio program “The Commonweal Hour.” The program was broadcast in both Tagalog and English, and Fr. James recalled that “it was so joyous, and so controversial, that all the newspapers talked about it for the next week.”

The program’s chief writer was the young Filipino Jesuit, Horacio de la Costa, who later became a prominent historian and educator. Among the actors were many young Ateneans who would later shine in the public arena: Leon Ma. Guerrero, Ricardo Puno, Jesus Paredes, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo and Raul Manglapus.

The former basketball star of St. Peter’s Prep became basketball coach of Ateneo Blue Eagles High. Only 5-and-half feet, James was the Jeremy Lin of Jersey City and the Jesuits from the early last century. He was a great fan of Dr. Jose Rizal and his nationalist writings.

The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS-NJ) has been presenting the life and times of Fr. Reuter in exhibits in Jersey City. He was part of our World War II veterans project. Fr. Reuter and fellow Jesuit Fr. John Ruane, both graduates of St. Peter’s Prep, found themselves prisoners in a Japanese military camp in Los Banos. They both returned to the Philippines to continue their mission after being rescued by U.S. troops with the help of Filipino guerrilla fighters.

We who live in Jersey City are very proud of them.

Fr. James Reuter S.J. succumbed to lung and heart failure on December 31, 2012. He was 96.

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