MANILA — Jesuit priest James B. Reuter (photo above), an iconic American educator, theater and television director, and respected journalist, died Dec. 31, leaving behind a body of works and other achievements that earned him in 1984 the title of honorary Filipino.

The Jesuit-run Ateneo de Manila briefly announced his passing: “The University mourns the passing of Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J., who joined our Creator at 12:51 p.m. today [Dec. 31], at the age of 96.”

He died from lungs and heart failure at the Our Lady of Peace Hospital in Parañaque City, south of Manila.

Sister Eva Maamo, head of the Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission Inc. (FOLPMI), an organization the late priest founded, said Fr. Reuter “had been unconscious in the last four days” but gave in despite being fed intravenously and attached to an oxygen tank.

Born on May 21, 1916, Fr. Reuter was born in Elizabeth, N.J., but first arrived in the Philippines as seminarian, at age 22, in 1938 as a missionary and scholastic.

He taught at the Ateneo de Manila on Padre Faura just before World War II but, when the global conflict broke out, he found himself interned by the Japanese army.

After the war, he left for the U.S. to finish his theological studies at Georgetown University and was ordained a Jesuit priest in Woodstock, Maryland in 1946.

He also spent another year at Fordham University in New York to study radio and television.

He was also active in the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a mission founded by the late Fr. Patrick Peyton, known worldwide as the “Rosary Priest.”

In 1947, he submitted to Fr. Peyton his unsolicited short radio drama titled “Stolen Symphony” that was played weekly on the Family Theater over Mutual Broadcasting System, an American network.

This same script earned him the award for Best Drama in the Ohio State Awards.

On his return to the Philippines in 1948, he taught high school and college at the Ateneo de Naga, and to those who knew him, he was basketball coach, drama and glee club director, retreat master, confidant and friend.

He also established the Family Theater Productions, using the outfit as medium to propagate the Rosary in the country through family-oriented soaps.

Martial rule closed down Fr. Reuter’s Marian efforts, but in 1986, when military rule collapsed, he returned to TV and launched the talk show program, Family Rosary Crusade, inspired no less by his former mentor, Fr. Peyton.

For his indefatigable efforts to train young men and women in the world of theater, stage, TV and print, his students were popularly dubbed as the “Reuter Babies.”

For his contributions, Fr. Reuter was awarded the United Nations Decade Award (1988), the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism (1989), and the “Outstanding Service to the Catholic Church in the field of Mass Media,” which was bestowed by Pope, now Blessed, John Paul II.

In 2006, he was granted honorary Filipino citizenship by Congress in recognition of his lifetime service to the people, and in 2008, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) conferred on him the “Jorge Barlin Golden Cross Award.”

Most significant among his honors is the highly coveted Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award, the highest papal award given to any individual in recognition of his outstanding and exemplary service to the Catholic Church and the Holy See.

He also served as director of the National Office on Mass Media (NOMM) and was executive secretary of the CBCP Commission on Social Communications and Mass Media (ECSCMM) for 39 years.

(Antonio Figueroa)

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