Rev. Bruce Ritter, 72, the Founder of Covenant House for Runaway Children
By Anthony Ramirez
The New York Times
October 13, 1999
The Rev. Bruce Ritter, who founded a shelter for runaways in 1969 and then resigned under pressure as its president in 1990 after being accused of financial and sexual improprieties, died Thursday at his farmhouse near Decatur, N.Y. He was 72.
Benjamin L. Meyers, the director of the Meyers Funeral Home in Delmar, N.Y., said that the cause of death was cancer. A private memorial Mass was held on Saturday at Father Ritter's farmhouse. Mr. Meyers, who did not attend the service, said Father Ritter had contacted him nearly a year ago to make funeral arrangements.
In 1969, Father Ritter founded Covenant House on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as a shelter for runaways. By 1989, the organization had become an immensely successful international charity, with programs in 15 cities in North and South America.
Covenant House, which at its height served as many as 25,000 youths, began to founder in late 1989 when two men accused Father Ritter of having had sexual relations with them when they were teen-agers. He was later accused of misusing Covenant House money. Father Ritter denied the accusations of both financial and sexual misconduct, and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said there was not enough evidence of financial misconduct to charge him with a crime. Father Ritter resigned in February 1990, saying in a prepared statement: ''The controversy that has surrounded me for the past three months has made it impossible for me to lead Covenant House effectively. Therefore, after a great deal of thought and prayer, I have come to the conclusion that in the best interests of Covenant House and, most especially, for the well-being of thousands of street kids, I should resign.''
Bruce Ritter was born John Ritter in Trenton on Feb. 25, 1927, taking the name Bruce in 1947 when he entered the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. He was ordained in Rome in 1956 as a member of the Franciscan order. It was unclear yesterday whether Father Ritter remained with the order.
In a 1990 profile of Father Ritter, The Los Angeles Times reported that he had done all of his work for his doctorate except publish his dissertation. By all accounts, he was regarded as an excellent teacher in the theology department at Manhattan College in the Bronx.
With permission from his Franciscan superiors, Father Ritter made his way to the East Village in 1968 with a passionate but unformed determination to help the poor and the homeless. Hugh O'Neill, a former student of Father Ritter's at Manhattan College, described Covenant House in those days -- an apartment for six children who had asked Father Ritter for shelter during a winter storm -- as just a ''crash pad for runaways.''
Since his resignation, Father Ritter had kept a low public profile and, as his private memorial Mass indicated, only his closest friends were allowed knowledge of his illness or his death.