Papa Reites

Religious Studies Professor Phillip Boo Riley shares his memories of the dear Jim Reites, S.J., MST ’71.

Papa Reites
“Fascinating coolness,” Papa Reites would say. “To figure out something difficult, to imagine how to make it work, to watch it perform ... that’s fascinating coolness.” View full image. Photo by Nabor Godoy

Craftsmanship and humility. Beloved member of many, varied communities. The secret sauce in a trio of Solar Decathlon teams and, recently, Tiny House builders. For 41 of his 78 years of energy-filled life, we were blessed to have Jim Reites, S.J., MST ’71, here on campus. He also lived a life of the mind—and now we feel an ache of the heart.

He served on the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies, where he was associate professor. He helped found the Xavier Residential Learning Community, where he served as faculty director. He led various student and alumni immersion trips to Mexico and El Salvador. He once worked construction, and in the School of Engineering he was a tireless and stalwart advisor—and associate professor. He died in his sleep on April 15.

From religious studies colleague Philip Boo Riley, a eulogy.

Jim was a friend of mine. 

The amazing thing about Jim is just how many people—here and around the world—can say that about him.

From the moment I met him in the first few weeks of my career here at SCU, Jim bounded into my life with élan, care, unbridled enthusiasm, support, and curiosity. Jim was a great colleague. 

But it was with my family that I spent most of my time with my friend Jim; his life was deeply and indelibly woven into the fabric of my family for nearly 40 years. 

In the early ’80s we lived in a cavernous house on Franklin Street, next to the big cross that now is at the entrance to SCU. Jim referred to the chaos that was the life of a family with four kids under the age of 10 as the “divine milieu.” He loved it. He’d come by many evenings—arriving amidst baths, story time, and homework—with a brown bag bursting with cookies he had purloined from the Jesuit residence, where he’d just finished community dinner. 

On Sundays Jim would host us for lunch in the Nobili dining room after the 10:00 a.m. Mass, delighting in our disruptive presence. My kids looked on those lunches like a trip to the White House, and for a while one of my sons discovered a vocation, assuming that life as a Jesuit meant constant access to free cookies, good food, and a recent-model Toyota Corolla. 

Later those kids—in college and high school, and even later, in careers launched and joined by spouses—would entertain Jim over leisurely summer dinners. (Note, Jim was the perfect guest to host in the kitchen; everything, even a simple PB&J sandwich, was “the best ever.”) And Jim would in turn entertain them and their friends. Sometimes we turned to things intellectual, introducing my kids to the life of the mind; sometimes they debated Tupac, something I never got; but more often he’d regale us with stories. Jim loved to tell stories—not all were true, but that is a story for another day. 

And now he is gone, a reality I never, ever considered. But he has left me—and perhaps you, too—to ponder, with gratitude, humility, and love, the words with which I began: Jim was a friend of mine.


Read the complete version of Professor Riley’s words we published in May here.

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