I feel like a part of me has been torn away. Fr. James Reuter is gone. I am sure Jesus Christ prepared a choir of angels to welcome him and give him a big pat on the back for a mission successfully carried out.
Fr. Reuter was American by blood but, in spirit, a true Filipino who molded Ateneans like myself. A well-rounded man for all seasons, Reuter was a Jesuit soldier of Christ and also an athlete, drama coach, producer of plays and musical concerts, an activist and, most of all, a broadcaster.
He was also a rocker. In the early 1960s, Fr. Reuter would swim regularly in the pool at our New Manila home, which was also where I set up dzRJ, the backyard station. Soon, he was directing my monthly rock ’n’ roll TV variety show, “The Catholic Digest Hour—Music & Rhythm with RJ & the Riots.” We featured school glee clubs, musical talents and even dancers.
Later on, he would beam when he told me (and it was often): “Did you know that our TV show is the highest-rating TV show ever?” A Jesuit priest directing a rock ’n’ roll show was out of the ordinary.
Fr. Reuter’s “arms” and influence reached far and wide. He mentored drama departments in other schools, like St. Paul’s College. He directed the ground-breaking weekly TV show “Sta. Zita and Mary Rose,” my sister Mary Rose’s TV program that promoted moral values among domestic helpers and their employers.
The Sta. Zita cast included the very young Baby Barredo, Zeneida Amador, Tommy Abuel, Leo Martinez, Johnny Manahan and Gary Lising. These personalities became leaders in their individual fields of endeavor.
Fr. Reuter was family to us, the Jacintos. In Hawaii, after 14 and a half years in exile during Martial Law, I jumped with joy as I watched CNN broadcast the Edsa revolution and the ouster of Marcos. Fr. Reuter and June Keithley converted dzRJ into “Radyo Bandido” to take over the role of Radio Veritas in calling on Filipinos to converge at Edsa. It was steered by the Enrile faction that rebelled against Marcos.
By shaving dzRJ’s frequency from 810 kHz nearer 840 kHz (Radio Veritas) Marcos was tricked into wondering how Radio Veritas which had earlier been bombed, was again broadcasting as Radyo Bandido. Ironically, dzRJ was only a walking distance from Malacañang, so that Keithley and a few other brave souls were broadcasting under Marcos’ nose.
Only in God’s grand design would he bring together dzRJ (a rock ’n’ roll station), Juan Ponce Enrile, Fr. Reuter and June Keithley in a concerted effort to call the people to Edsa.
Fr. Reuter was a game-changer. I visited him a few months ago, lugging my guitar. There at his beside, we reminisced on the live TV shows we had produced and Radyo Bandido. Again he said, beaming, “We had the highest rating ever.”
Then with his nun/nurse and my friend/classmate Rolly Magat watching, I sang “What a Wonderful World” to him. Fr. Reuter’s eyes lit up and thumped his hand to the beat. (The video is posted on facebook.com/rj.guitarman.) Though his body was frail, I could see his spirit was still very young and enthusiastic.
I bade him farewell, feeling it was probably the last time I would see him. I am glad I visited and sang to this great man who inspired many young people and enriched their lives.
When my mom passed away in 1996, Fr. Reuter said the funeral Mass and surmised that, in heaven, we would look the way we did at the prime of our lives. I can see him now conducting a choir of angels or directing a divine play, probably swimming in an Olympic-sized, heavenly swimming pool to exercise his athletic body.
Farewell, Fr. Reuter! Watch over our country. True broadcaster that you were, you signed off on the last day of the year.