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Fr. Andy Villanueva: Teaching at its best

Whenever my high school buddies would get together, the name of Fr. Andy Villanueva would often come up.  Fr. Villanueva was a former Jesuit scholastic assigned at the Ateneo de Naga in 1966 and was our fourth year class moderator. 

His whereabouts have been a mystery to us for more than 47 years after graduation.  We know that he left the Society of Jesus and that was the extent of our information.  We hit a dead end looking for him until last year when I was finally able to get his cell phone from a former Jesuit who personally knew Andy, now retired and living in Cagayan de Oro.

It took me a few days before I texted him. Although I was excited to contact him immediately, I hesitated because I was not sure if he would remember me.  

It was 47 years ago that we parted ways and a lot of things could happen in one’s ability to remember names.   Much to my chagrin, Andy responded to my text and later on to my emails. What followed was a renewed relationship between a student and his former teacher.

It’s funny how we form an image of certain people we crossed paths with only to find out after many years that they are no longer what we have envisioned them to be. 

My image of Andy was that of young Jesuit, handsome, affable and good-natured, and the quintessential crush of many colegialas my age at that time. 

So when I mentioned to him in an email that his former class would invite him to our 50th high school class reunion in two years, he replied that his conditions no longer permit him long travels and strenuous movements.

I felt sad that the prospect of him attending our 50th high school reunion was nil, but I was not ready to give up with my desire to share life-stories with the person who, at one point in my life, helped me navigate through my own educational journey.

From the series of emails that we exchanged, I discovered that Andy, true to his background as a former teacher, offers invaluable insights that one can learn from.  For example, when I informed him that many of his students have become successful professionals, he attributed this not to one single factor, but to many.  

He wrote, “I believe, however, that what you all are has been preceded by tons of hard work, difficulties, crises, pains, frustrations perhaps and various tests of character and endurance. All of what you are now, I would attribute to you as individuals and the inborn talents planted in you by the Great Architect.” 

He attributes success to how the individuals make use of their talents. To me this is teaching at its best.

He also wants to know you.  One trait of an excellent teacher is to know the students.  In one of his early emails, he wrote, “I’d appreciate you telling me later when you have time more about yourself…Perhaps a brief on how life has tossed you around since we parted ways after your graduation in 1966.  I have no contact with your classmates at H-4 1966 and maybe you can also give me a few lines about them.” But he did not stop with my story. He shared his own.  To me this is teaching at its best.

Andy also inspires and motivates like most teachers I admire.  After he had a glimpse of my own life-story, which he divided into three chapters, he encouraged me to write the fourth chapter because he believes that my life is still unfolding.

He wrote, “A fourth or more chapters are still in the works especially now that you are coming home to the Philippines and itching to continue being active.  You may not agree with me, but I think you would consider expanding on these chapters including those still unfolding which someday will translate into your autobiography. 

There is something unique about you and your life that, I believe, will be worthwhile and inspiring to many readers, known or unknown to you and me.”  He challenges you to maximize your potentials. To me this is teaching at its best.

Lastly, Andy is humble.  He is not a show-off.  The kind of humility that he exhibits is missing in most of the educators that I know today.  He sees himself as a pygmy compared to his students. He writes, “The achievements and success of one and all in their respective fields of endeavor is very consoling and a cause of real joy on my part.  You have all grown up to become giants.  Were I to stand alongside with your class today, I certainly would look like a pygmy.” He exemplifies the virtue of humility.  To me this is teaching at its best.

It is not a strange coincidence that Andy and I would cross paths after almost 47 years. I am glad that we did because it has been truly a learning experience for me.