Campus community continues to mourn loss of beloved Jesuit
THE SANTA CLARA
May 12, 2016
On April 25, Fr. James Reites, S.J. passed away unexpectedly in his sleep. Known for his passion for engineering and theology, Reites was a vital source of energy at Santa Clara for the last 41 years. He was 78 years old.
Born in New Orleans, Reites had an early interest in academia and began his studies at Loyola University in Los Angeles, known today as Loyola Marymount University. Driven by his love of God and desire to learn, he joined the Jesuit order.
He came to Santa Clara in 1975 and began a distinguished and involved career in both the academic and communal spheres of the university. In an email sent by university president Fr. Michael Engh, S.J., Reites was an active member of the Xavier RLC and led a variety of immersion trips to El Salvador and Mexico.
Most recently, Reites had worked tirelessly in the School of Engineering as a professor and as an advisor to Engineers Without Borders, the Tiny House project and the solar decathlon team.
Fr. Constant Bossou, S.J., who traveled with Reites to Benin in December to build solar grids for a small village north of Parakou, said that Reites was a tireless worker for the poor.
“He had a very great love for the poor,” Bossou said. “That is something we really cherish in the Society of Jesus.”
The trip to Benin was part of seniors Nico Metais and Jacob Leatherberry’s culminating engineering design project. According to Metais, Reites had a broader vision for his immersion trips, hoping to return to various places and continue his work. Reites took Metais and Leatherberry to Benin to build a solar microgrid that would provide electricity to a small village.
“Although you can use it to advance technology, I think he really saw the possibility of technology to benefit the greater good,” Metais said.
According to those on the trip, the locals loved and respected Reites.
“He just had a way of interacting with the community there that just made them feel really comfortable and in return super welcoming (towards) us,” said Metais. “Every morning the kids would be waiting for him and jump all over him and the elders would be super happy to have him.”
Despite not knowing how to speak the local language, Bossou said that Reites communicated with the community using his hands and became close with children in the village.
More than anything, Reites was respected for his energy. Students and peers alike recounted how Reites had a startling energy level despite his age.
“We built this (microgrid) in about four days,” Leatherberry said. “The guy was 78 and we were 21. He was keeping up with us the whole time.”
Leatherberry added that Reites was hard working, energetic and kept morale up.
Bossou recounted that many of the locals could hardly believe that the animated Jesuit was in his late seventies.
Because of his energy, his loss came as a great surprise to the university community.
“I was shocked,” said Timothy Hight, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if he outlived me. He had energy and was engaged with life. Nothing seemed to slow him down.”
Reites’ passing has left a huge hole in the university community. Hight said that Reites filled many roles in the school of engineering.
“We don’t pretend to be able to replace him,” Hight said. “What five different people do we find to fill his role?”
Students have keenly felt the loss of Reites. According to Leatherberry, Reites was advising many senior design projects in the school of engineering. Many students feel at a loss and aren’t sure how to move forward without their mentor.
However, Reites’ memory stays alive in many ways. Leatherberry said that one senior design team decided to name a bridge they are building in Ghana in his honor. Many other teams are trying to channel Reites’ spirit.
“Our mission now is just to live his legacy,” Leatherberry said.
Contact Nicolas Sonnenburg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.