Servants, leaders

“Servant-leaders” is a phrase coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, first published in 1970. In that essay, he said: The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”

This past week, two servant leaders of the Philippines passed into eternal life: Mayor Sonia Lorenzo, who has made a lot of difference already but still should have had, if not for illness, many decades of service still left; Fr. John Carroll, of the Society of Jesus, who has given our country everything and has left us with a legacy of people and institutions who will carry on the mission.

In describing Mayor Sonia, I recall the words of another Jesuit, Fr. Horacio de la Costa SJ, who in a 1953 speech during the Ateneo de Davao commencement exercises, said: “We need national leaders; the best we can get. But make no mistake: it is local and regional community leaders that our people need most of all. Not leaders who reside in some distant capital, out of touch with them, out of their reach, but leaders who are right here with them, who know them and whom they know; who understand their problems, their hopes, their dreams, and who can, because of the education they have received, give substance to these hopes and dreams.”

Ms. Sonia Lorenzo, a Chemical Engineering graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, was a three term mayor of San Isidro Municipality in Nueva Ecija. Originally from Davao City, she relocated to San Isidro with her husband where she soon joined politics. Upon being elected as the mayor of San Isidro, she promoted socio-economic development through the cooperation of the citizens of San Isidro. She also succeeded in expanding the delivery of social services of her town, among others partnering with Gawad Kalinga to build better settlements for the poor. Above all, Mayor Sonia was known for her work on public health, implementing innovations that increased the number of poor residents covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (Philhealth).

For a couple of years, I worked closely with Mayor Sonia at the Ateneo School of Government, where she was a Senior Fellow on Local Governance. I also worked closely with her when she became a founding champion of the Kaya Natin Movement for Ethical Leadership and Good Governance. Later, when she served as the Executive Director of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines. Association (ULAP), we continued to collaborate.

In all of these, I saw a woman totally committed to public service and good governance; to the end of her battle with bone marrow cancer, her son Jess Lorenzo told me, she wanted to talk about the work that still had to be done to make our country a better place. As she is sent off to heaven on Wednesday in her hometown of Davao City, I am sure that will be in her mind and when she meets her good friend, former Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, they will be conspiring to make that happen.

Making the Philippines a better place, certainly more just, where the poor would have dignity and hope – that was the mission of Fr. Jack Carroll. During his funeral today (Monday, July 21), Fr. Robert Rivera described Fr. Jack as “Light”, “Friend”, and “Shepherd”. What wonderful words, and how true a description of this great Jesuit.

Fr. Jack was assigned to our islands in 1943, just three years after entering the New York Province of the Jesuits. In the website of the Jesuit Asia Pacific Conference, Fr. Jack describes how it has been like to work in this country and as a Jesuit: “It’s been a great, if sometimes bumpy ride. As I look back on 70 years in the Society, on three continents, and recall the thousands of students, co-workers, and urban poor whom I have been privileged to know and serve and call my friends, I am amazed at the Lord’s generosity.”

Fr. Rivera described Fr. Jack as “Light” because of his intellectual contributions to the Philippines, especially to the Church, the field of social development and to the discipline of sociology. Father Jack originally planned to be a biologist but shifted interests to address Philippine needs.

As recounted by one of his close collaborators, Eleanor Dionisio in an article in the Inquirer last year: After ordination in 1955, Fr. Jack studied for an MA in sociology at Fordham University in New York City, then a PhD in sociology and Southeast Asian studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. When he returned to the Philippines in the 1960s, he was assigned to the Institute of Social Order, a Jesuit apostolate applying Catholic social teaching to the problems of poverty, inequity, and injustice in the Philippines. He also worked in various capacities with the Philippine Social Science Council, the Ateneo de Manila University, and the National Secretariat for Social Action. After a short stint, from 1975-1981, at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Fr. Jack cofounded the Institute on Church and Social Issues (ICSI) with Father Nebres and Bishop Francisco E. Claver, SJ. He became the founding executive director of ICSI and would stay on as a senior researcher of that influential institution up to the end.

In the many institutions he worked for, Fr. Jack became known as a mentor and a friend to his co-workers, Jesuit and lay alike. While I was never privileged to work closely with Fr. Jack, I have collaborated with many of his colleagues and have witnessed the bond of friendship and love he established with them.

Finally, Fr. Jack was shepherd to a flock. As Ms. Dionisio also describes it, while an adviser to the bishops, Fr. Jack was also a pastor to the poor, saying Sunday Mass regularly for years in Payatas. The people of that community “taught him that while the long-term answers to poverty, inequity, and injustice are popular empowerment and structural change, the poor need relief here and now.” Among others, Fr. Jack established a feeding program for children, provided scholarships for its young people, and, for married persons, a natural family planning program.

Mayor Sonia still wanted to do a lot of things to do for our country. Fr. Jack have done enough for three, maybe five lifetimes. Lets honor their memory by following their example.


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