Jim Reites was hoping that God would say no.
It was the 1950’s and Reites was an engineering student at Loyola University in Los Angeles. He was also “informally” engaged to a young woman at the time. His path in life seemed pretty clear to him, until a group of young Jesuits came through campus the summer of his senior year.
I got to know some of them,” Reites says, “Terrific people.”
The notion of becoming one of them entered Reites’ mind and refused to exit. “I decided I wouldn’t be happy unless I applied,” Reites says, “I went through the whole application process.I was hoping it would come back negative and unfortunately they accepted me.”
Father Jim Reites gave up on an engineering career path to spend years studying philosophy and theology, eventually rising to chair of the Religious Studies Department at Santa Clara University. Still, the tinker in him never went away.
“The first personal computer in a department on campus, I built that out of a kit,” Father Reites says.
That do-it-yourself spirit was one big reason why, in 2007, he was asked to advise Santa Clara’s first Solar Decathlon team.
The United States Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon is a biannual competition where teams from schools around the world compete to build the most efficient, livable, beautiful home they can. Santa Clara’s entries in 2007 and 2009 fared very well.
Both teams finished in third place, besting many bigger, better funded universities. Students say Father Reites is a big reason for their success.
Members of the 2013 team, building their home right now on the Santa Clara campus, say Father Reites is an inspiration to them, in more ways than one.
“I’ve never seen him down in spirits or tired,” says Santa Clara junior Brian Grau, “He’s always ready to work whether it’s actually doing physical labor all day long or helping us with the design.” “Obviously, I enjoy it,” says Father Reites, “It’s fun. It’s exciting.”
It is also breaking stereotypes. First, the notion that a seventy-five-year old Jesuit priest can’t teach twenty-somethings a thing or two about technology. Second, the belief some might have that religion and science don’t mix.
Father Reites says the building of a solar house is right in line with the Jesuits’ mission. “It’s engineering with a mission,” Father Reites says, “a real mission to make the world a better place.”