The scene: Early morning, about 9 a.m. of Sunday, September 19, 2004. Inside the Fr. James B. Reuter Theatre. In St. Paul University. Close to a hundred boys and girls, and nuns from the school, ages ranging from 8 to 70 years old, were putting on costumes and make-up backstage. We were preparing for the final dress rehearsal and video taping of the play “Women With A Heart” which Fr. Reuter was producing in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres congregation.
It was, to many of us that morning, just an ordinary, typical dress rehearsal session. After several minutes, however, long after everybody had finished putting on their costumes and make-up, the atmosphere began to change. Fr. Reuter had not arrived. He had never been late before. In fact, in all those stage plays, musical concerts, TV shows and radio programs I have been privileged to take part in, Fr. Reuter was always the first to arrive. He would sit in his director’s chair, sip his coffee and review the script, while waiting for the cast to come in trickles, some of them sneaking in way past call time.
Many more minutes went by. The entire cast and crew started to mill around the podium where Fr. Reuter would sit giving his directions every rehearsal day. What was the problem?
After a while, Sister Sarah could no longer dodge our questions. In near tears, she said, sadly: “Fr. Reuter says he is sorry that he is unable to come this morning. He was rushed to a hospital in Cavite late last night, after suffering from plueresy and pneumonia. While he argued with his doctor that it was important that he be with us today, the hospital would not let him go. So he told me to tell you to continue with the rehearsals, until the next one when he says he is sure to come.”
We did. But the air was no longer as alive as when he was around. As can be expected, everybody felt sad. We said our prayers especially for him, and dedicated our efforts that day to him.
The subsequent 12 live presentations in four St. Paul schools around Metro Manila met with very sympathetic reviews, as usual… with Fr. Reuter in full control of operations…as usual. But since that morning of September 19, I could not help but feel uneasy about the weakening physical condition of “Papa Bear” (the “Reuter Babies” gave him that name). Every now and then, during breaks in the performances, I would share my apprehension with my co-players, and especially with Sister Sarah and Fr. Reuter’s staff who were equally concerned since they had been taking him in and out of the hospital in the last several months.
It bothered me that, as his doctor warned that night: “in his condition, he could go anytime.” I know that inevitably, we will lose him. Age is finally catching up with him. But once he is gone how can we preserve those golden moments we have had with him? How can we share the insights and the values he instilled in us? Should we not pass them on to others?
Soon after the play closed, I went to see him and asked if he could give me the exclusive rights to his plays and other writings. To make sure he committed his approval in writing, I prepared a letter with a conforme line for him to sign. To my embarrassment, he said there was no need. He would sign the conforme anyway but that he did not think there would be a problem between us. It turned out that he had also been thinking about this for sometime. How could he expand his apostolate through his works? It has been part of his mission in life.
I felt very lucky therefore, that I happened to be in the right place at the right time. He even added he would waive all copyrights so that schools and other interested parties may stage the plays anytime they want, without having to pay royalty to the author.
Thus was born “LEGACY: Selected plays and other writings of James B. Reuter, S.J.,” (Father Jim as he has come to be called). This is a sampling of his writings from his youth to his later years. A folio of Fr. Reuter as priest, playwright, and media specialist.
Writing and speaking in public are Fr. Jim’s special brand of apostolate. He has dedicated his whole life to spreading the Word of God through the mass media. He speaks of television as the modern-day pulpit. His articles and letters, the talks and homilies he has given in retreats, and the many plays he has written, produced and directed for radio, television and the stage all have touched the lives of countless young men and women who have worked with him and who have learned from him.
Fr. Jim landed in Manila at a young age of 21, to teach at the Ateneo de Manila and at the same time to continue his Theology studies. He was in Manila when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Together with other Jesuits and priests and nuns of different religious orders he was incarcerated in Los Baños Prison Camp. In detention, this energetic young Jesuit took charge of entertaining his fellow prisoners by composing songs and writing and presenting plays.
The book is divided into three parts. The first is a biographical sketch of the person as spiritual adviser, teacher, coach, director, and friend to many individuals spanning almost three generations. This portion was written by Sister Sarah Manapol, S.P.C. who embellished her article with many photographs never before seen by most of us.
The second part features 12 of Fr. Jim’s more memorable plays. Included here is the award-winning “Stolen Symphony” in which popular Catholic Hollywood stars like Richard Widmark and Robert Ryan alternated in playing the male lead, with Joan Caulfield playing the female lead role. Three of these, Stolen Symphony, Second Fiddle, and Night Shift were written for radio.
Unfortunately, space limitations will not allow us to publish all his scripts (45 at last count) in this volume. We wanted to add many more, for example, “Good Night Black Eye,” a play he wrote in prison camp.
Most of them he wrote on request, such as those he produced for the late Fr. Patrick Peyton’s weekly radio-television series: “The Family Theatre”, in Hollywood, and which was brought here by Fr. Peyton in the 1960’s.
Another brilliant work of art (labor of love, says Fr. Jim) is his production, jointly with Mary Rose Jacinto (now Mrs. Espeleta) of “Santa Zita and Mary Rose” which was among the first locally produced telenovelas in the Philippines. Santa Zita and Mary Rose involves domestic helpers. Santa Zita is the patron saint of domestic workers. The series ran continuously every Sunday for 11 years without missing a single episode. The young Tessie Villegas, (now Mrs. Francis Arcenas) and I were the first pair who played the lead roles, in 1959. After us, there were at least four changes in the cast. The more noted stars then included Tommy Abuel, Leo Martinez, Zeneida Amador, Lily Gamboa O’Boyle, and Patsy Monzon.
Part III includes recollections, reflections and testimonies from prominent people he has worked with, and who know him, and who have fond memories of this great Jesuit.
Again, I just feel we will be remiss in our work if we do not mention, at least a few more titles of Fr. Jim’s works and writings. “400 Years of Christianity in 50 Minutes,” for example, was a play which the late Jaime Cardinal Sin had asked him to write for the canonization of Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Philippine saint. And because Fr. Jim wanted the children, his performers, to see Europe, he took the play to Rome and seven other cities in Europe and to the U.S.A. I hope that in the future, we, or others after us, will be given the opportunity to publish a sequel to this volume which will do justice to Fr. Jim’s rich legacy of wisdom and inspiration.
To me, among Fr. Jim’s greatest works was a dramatic act that was not written but performed. This occurred during the four dark days in Philippine history – the People Power Revolution from February 22 to 26, 1986. Heeding the call of Cardinal Sin, he directed the operations of Radyo Bandido, with June Keithley and brothers Paolo and Gabe Mercado mobilizing people to go to EDSA. He may not have written a whole script to present that episode as a play, but from bits and pieces of the recorded interviews, he produced a documentary and named it “The Untold Story”.
Also, in Fr. Jim’s files in Xavier House, one can browse through his columns in By/Post Journal from Culion.
There are articles he wrote in the Cephean, his high school magazine from 1930-1934.
Fr. Jim was also cited for his achievements in mass media. He organized and founded The Philippine Federation of Catholic Broadcasters, now known as the Catholic Media Network.
In a message he prepared for a prologue in another book, he wrote “It seems to me that…my chief job has been to discover talent in people, and to try to uncover it…I try to develop the beautiful gifts that were given to them by God. I don’t create anything. I just help the person to unfold, to blossom, to bloom, to grow. It is the most consoling work in the world.
It is an honor. An incredible honor.”
Fr. Reuter is turning 90 on May 21, 2006. The many years of hard work in the service of our Lord and the Filipino people have taken their toll on his health. He is no longer the muscular, handsome young Jesuit who first landed in Manila in 1938. He is now in the twilight of his life.
We, who count ourselves privileged to be among his close friends will have fond memories of this great Jesuit long after he is gone. His legions of friends will be thinking about him and talking about him, and missing him till their own last breath.
No doubt about it. His LEGACY will forever be with us.
It is his, and our intention to share this LEGACY with all Filipinos, now and in the future. We dedicate this book to all of you.
My heartfelt thanks go to all those who helped put this book together. A special mention to Luis ”Totit” Olivares, Jr. and Rey S. Guevara who took up the challenge to serve as publishers.
To Manila Mayor Lito Atienza and Councilor Kim Atienza who ensured the publication of the book by underwriting part of the first printing.
To Lulu Castañeda, Jesse Paredes, Ateneo Sports Hall of Famer, and Ramon “Eki” Cardenas, and Tony Lopa who went out of their way to get those needed contributions.
Likewise to Ed Trivino, Joty Javier, and Lito Anzures -- who collaborated, also to solicit funding for the publication.
To Fr. Jim’s staff at Xavier House – Sister Aurelie; Cherry Castro-Aquino; the mother and daughter team of Virgie and Kathy Diaz. The staff was most helpful not only in digging up the old files, but also in getting me connected with all the resource persons who are now part of the book. To Perla L. Manapol who stood as girl Friday to Sis. Sarah. The same to Buddy Guingab who led his entire crew at Kadena Press to produce this beautiful volume – from design of the cover and the DVD version, to the general layout, down to the finishing touches, printing and packaging.
And last but not least, a very special thanks of course to the benefactors. Their names are inscribed here.