By Dr. Herman M. Lagon
IN A WORLD often characterized by arrogance, fakery, condescension, and self-promotion, there exists a rare breed of individuals whose impact is profound, yet their presence is unassuming. Fr. Manny A. Uy, Jr., a Jesuit visionary, mentor, and role model, exemplifies such a paradoxical legacy. Rooted in the principles of cura personalis, he has not only transformed educational institutions, but hearts as well.
Fr. Manny’s journey, an intricate mosaic of love, service, and leadership, began as he assumed the post of Director-Principal at Santa Maria Catholic School (SMCS) at the start of the century. His vision, igniting transformation, led to the metamorphosis of SMCS into Ateneo de Iloilo-SMCS, marking a shift not just in nomenclature, but in direction and mindset. With Ateneo’s expansion came the move from General Blanco, City Proper, to San Rafael, Mandurriao, an embodiment of the movement towards a more significant, larger, and more inclusive community.
His impact on Ateneo de Cebu was equally transformative. As president for a decade, Fr. Manny elevated the institution’s stature, his leadership radiating humility and dedication. Known for his uncanny ability to remember everyone by name, he exemplified the Ignatian principle of being men and women for others. His legacy is not just about structures and institutions but about connections and relationships, emphasizing that leadership is as much about care as it is about authority.
Fr. Manny’s humility is not just a veneer but the essence of his being. His unassuming but undoubtedly gravitating demeanor has embodied Ignatian authenticity, a living testament to the principle that authentic leadership emanates from walking one’s talk and talking one’s walk. In this authenticity, he has become a surrogate father, spiritual director, and mentor extraordinaire to me and many others, a role far beyond official titles and terms.
What makes Fr. Manny’s legacy relevant, especially for school leaders aspiring to be truly transformative? It is in his holistic approach to education, an approach that marries competence with compassion, academic excellence with service, and institutional growth with a personal connection. He embodies the Jesuit ideal of magis—that relentless pursuit of excellence, that endless desire to do greater things for the greater good—not boastfully but through consistent, genuine actions, through unadulterated, sincere witnessing.
His journey has been full of challenges. Health setbacks tested his spirit recently, but the outpouring of prayers, support, and gratitude from across the globe rekindled his strength. His weeklong visit to Iloilo this August, a testament to his love for his parishioners, mentees, lay partners, alums, parents, and friends, showcased that his legacy is alive and thriving. Despite everything, he persists in showcasing his boundless kindness towards everyone, employing his characteristic and unique approach. His remarkable ability to recall nearly every name enables him to greet each person with his warm and modest smile, engaging them in conversation that effortlessly bridges the passage of 12 years.
It is widely recognized that Fr. Manny’s influence extends extensively through his contributions to campus infrastructure and administrative development. Moreover, he plays a pivotal role in various programs, even transcending the school. Notably, he was instrumental in introducing the Chinese New Year celebration to Iloilo City. However, for those fortunate enough to truly acquaint themselves with him, Fr. Manny surpasses these remarkable managerial feats. To many of us, he remains an instrument through which faith naturally rekindles—a constant and unwavering source of inspiration. He was not just a figurehead but a mirror reflecting Christ’s light. His legacy is not just about the Jesuit education apostolate; it is about embracing the essence of faith, service, and leadership and weaving them into the fabric of daily life. To many, he serves as a bridge connecting them to the transcendent and helping them in their spiritual pilgrimages.
Fr. Manny’s journey intertwined with that of countless others. For me, he became a spiritual compass, a guide to rediscovering faith. His mentorship extended beyond the academic realm, nurturing the soul through his example. From that initial interview back in 2001, when I nervously sat before him in a jersey, shorts, and sporting a streak of blonde hair, to our recent conversation where he shared his visionary insights for Ateneo de Iloilo with me then as the principal in 2022, his persona beautifully embodies the quintessential Jesuit principle of finding God in all things.
Fr. Manny A. Uy, Jr., SJ, is not just a name; it embodies transformative servant leadership, Ignatian authenticity, and unwavering faith. His legacy serves as a roadmap for leaders aspiring to make a difference, asserting that grand gestures do not always mark the greatest impact but by unassuming acts of love, care, and mentorship. In a world yearning for authenticity, he remains a beacon of light, reminding us that genuine leadership is both radical and humble.
Sir H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. He is a physics and math professor of ISUFST, an educational leadership student of USLS, a retired Principal of Ateneo, and an alumnus of UP, UI, and WVSU.