Reuter ‘baby’ at 88 on ‘greatest teacher’ of his generation
Many of us Ateneans are children of God and of Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ.
At 88, I am probably the last survivor of the sophomore AB class of 1941, the very first class and the only prewar class of Father Reuter.
In a sense we are not Reuter babies, we are aborted fetuses, for we had Father Reuter only for seven months before World War II started, while most Reuter babies after the war had him for 60 years.
But I tell you, we were the first and the best of all his classes.
We were only 40 students, but among us were two Cabinet members (both the youngest of their time), three doctors, two scientists (one of whom is our first nuclear scientist, Bart Bartolome), three engineers, one banker, one Jesuit priest, five lawyers, one labor leader, an ambassador to Benelux, to the Middle East and to the Court of St. James (all in the person of JV Cruz), three billionaires, five millionaires, eight who walked the Death March in Bataan, and four genuine war heroes who never made it back.
We also had two alleged bums; both became congressmen.
Why can’t all Americans be like Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ?
Unlike Americans 1.8 meters tall and weighing 90 kilograms, Father Reuter, as small and slight as a Filipino, required less living space, ate less, wore smaller clothes, and made less demands on the finite resources of Mother Earth.
As a celibate, Father Reuter contributed nothing to the population explosion and the spread of AIDS.
As a priest, he contributed nothing to drug abuse, the arms race and the hole in the ozone layer.
If many Filipinos are disappointed with the Americans, it is because most do not measure up to the standards set by Father Reuter.
Credit to his race
Let it be said of Reuter that he is a credit to his race—I don’t mean the white race, I mean the human race.
Father Reuter’s father was once featured in a March of Time news film as a traffic policeman issuing 360 parking tickets in just one day and famous throughout America for that feat. His sister Nancy was national champion in roller skating for three consecutive years.
Father Reuter was the last and probably the greatest of the great teachers who molded our generation, among them, Fr. Joseph Mulry, Fr. Henry Lee Irwin and the legendary Horacio de la Costa.
A young Jesuit scholastic, not yet a priest in 1941, and about to be a teacher, Reuter was advised by Father Mulry about his first class: “They are bright. But they have ants in the pants … Get in there and learn as much as you can from them.”
I was part of the first class of Reuter, and what he got from us is a lot of ants in his pants. Among us were JV Cruz, Aurelio Montinola Jr., Jose Yulo Jr., Juan C. Tan and banker Mariano Laurel.
Long before he was called Camote, we called Reuter Father Re-ooter, then Father Rooter, and finally “Bob Steele” because he looked and acted like the famous cowboy star who was a flyweight boxing champion.
In class, he read out Shakespeare’s plays, playing all the roles, in voices ranging from falsetto to bass, jumping from one desk to another, fencing with imaginary enemies, embracing imaginary lovers.
His students won all prizes in the weekly radio play contest of kzRH. In that same year, he directed the college play “Who Rides on White Horses,” and taught Hadji Kalaw how to dress in drag as Queen Elizabeth.
For a long time Ateneo used female-impersonators such as Bert Avellana, JV Cruz and Tito Guingona in its college plays, till Reuter recruited my sister-in-law, Luisa Lichauco, and the Maryknollers to act in Cyrano de Bergerac. And this started a glorious tradition of intercollegiate plays that involved St. Paul’s College, Stella Maris and other girl’s schools, and finally resulted in girls being admitted to La Salle and Ateneo.
Long before Repertory Philippines, Reuter was already staging Broadway musicals. Long before the UP Madrigal Singers, he was directing the Glee Clubs of St. Paul’s, Ateneo, even San Beda and Letran in joint concerts. Long before “Maaala Mo Kaya,” he was already directing weekly sitcoms on television.
“Reuterish,” a pejorative term meaning commonplace and saccharine, does more than anything to highlight the greatness of the man, and the standards he set.
Short even for a Filipino, reaching as high as the waist of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Father Reuter was a magnificent athlete who could in his 70s still run 5 kilometers every day, swim 100 laps in an Olympic-size swimming pool, and outrun and outbox students 50 years his junior.
In his youth, he was a star-forward and captain of his basketball team.
As athletic moderator in 1957 he trained a bunch of rookies headed by Ed Ocampo and Bobby Littaua to grab the championship from the battle-tested Mapua team led by the great Charlie Badion.
The next year, 1958, the rookies lost most of their games in the elimination round, which La Salle won. In the championship round, in a game with La Salle, Reuter’s Ateneo recovered from a 13-point deficit to tie the game and beat La Salle in overtime by two points.
The term “Jesuit” was once used in reproach and in contempt.
Choosing to be part of worldly society as missionaries, educators and scientists, the Jesuits became the Opus Dei of their day, controversial as powerful advisers to kings and potentates, and were once expelled from several countries by papal edict.
As late as the 1960s, the Swiss constitution forbade any Jesuit from practicing his craft in Switzerland. There is a good reason for this. As father confessor, a Jesuit has the knack of looking at you and giving you an enormous feeling of guilt for the little sins most people don’t mind having, like playing solitaire or harboring lustful thoughts about your wife’s best friend. That is how the Jesuits exerted great influence on leaders of nations.
The word “jesuitic” came to mean sly and treacherous, and from it came the Filipino term “switik,” meaning pushy, tuso, swapang.
The American Jesuits from poor Irish stock driven to the United States by the potato famine, undertook to educate the sons of the aristocratic ruling class of Filipinos—and succeeded in giving our generation of Ateneans, a schizophrenic split personality, combining belief in social justice, the arrogance of a cacique, American acquisitiveness, Filipino patriotism and a belief in the superiority of the Great White Father.
Ultimately, this is the tragedy of the Atenean of our generation—an aristocrat with the heart of a peasant, a patriot with a colonial mentality, a religious Dr. Jekyll and materialistic Mr. Hyde.
And that’s probably the reason that while the Dominicans gave our nation six presidents, UP two presidents, Assumption and Sta. Escolastica one woman president each, there never was a real Atenean president, except one who was thrown out of Ateneo, out of Malacañang, and into jail.
Who cares? The Ateneans of our time would rather be children of God and of Father Reuter.
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