By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Tania Tetlow, incoming president of Fordham University in New York, will be the first layperson and first woman to lead the Jesuit-run school.
Introducing her to the school community and others via Zoom Feb. 10, Jesuit Father Joseph McShane, the university’s outgoing president, said it was a historic day for the university.
But for Tetlow, current president of Loyola University New Orleans, her history-making role is repeating itself because four years ago she became the first layperson and woman to lead that Jesuit school.
Tetlow has strong ties in New Orleans, where she grew up and where she served as federal prosecutor and law professor at Tulane University. But in the Zoom presentation, she said she was glad “to be home” at Fordham when she begins her new role there July 1.
She said the university has “loomed so large” in her family. Her dad, a former Jesuit priest, met her mom at Fordham when they were graduate students.
In a video message to the Fordham community, she said she has come from “a family full of Jesuits” who taught her that “faith and reason are intertwined” and they also instilled in her “an abiding curiosity to find God in all things.”
Her uncle, writer Jesuit Father Joseph Tetlow, served for eight years in Rome as head of the Secretariat for Ignatian Spirituality of the Society of Jesus.
Robert Daleo, chairman of Fordham’s board of trustees, said in a statement that the board was deeply impressed by Tania Tetlow “from the moment we met her” and voted unanimously to appoint her to the position after a nationwide search.
“She is deeply rooted in, and a strong proponent of, Ignatian spirituality and will be a champion of Fordham’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and identity,” he said.
Father McShane said in the Zoom announcement that the school’s founder, Archbishop John Hughes, whom he referred to by his nickname, “Dagger John,” would have been delighted and thrilled by Tetlow’s appointment as the university’s 33rd president.
He said the archbishop, who founded Fordham in 1841, “was no wilting wallflower” and would certainly want the university to continue to thrive. The school’s website explains that its founder’s nickname stemmed from the Catholic practice of a bishop placing a cross in front of his signature, but it also described his aggressive personality.
Father McShane announced last September that the current academic year would be his last as president.
When he steps down this summer, he will be tied with his predecessor, Jesuit Father Joseph O’Hare, as Fordham’s longest serving presidents — both at 19 years.
In his nearly two decades at Fordham, the school has grown in enrollment and student diversity, increased its academic offerings and become more financially sound. Since 2003, the priest has raised $1 billion for the university, seen its endowment quadruple, and invested $1 billion in new construction and infrastructure improvements.
Father McShane said if people ask “why not a Jesuit?” to run the school, his response is: “Why not Tania Tetlow?”
He described her as a “practical visionary” who strengthened Loyola University during her time there and who also was active in the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
Tetlow served on several boards in the city, including the New Orleans Library Board and Foundation, where she led a campaign that raised $7 million to rebuild flooded public libraries after the 2005 hurricane.
When asked by a New Orleans reporter in 2019 to say something people might not know about her, she said she sings opera.
And when asked what she loves about her job, she said she gets to “lead an institution that transforms lives. Loyola is the reason my own family went from coal mining to university president in two generations.”
The Harvard graduate told the Fordham community Feb. 10 that she was honored and excited to take on the new role and that she would be joined in New York with her husband, Gordon, their 9-year-old daughter and their golden retriever.
She told the students: “I cannot wait to be part of your community.”
At Loyola University, Jesuit Father Justin Daffron, the school’s vice president of mission and identity, will serve as interim president next year. Members of a national presidential search committee will be announced later this spring and the search process is anticipated to take about a year.
Steve Landry, chair of Loyola’s board of trustees, said in a statement that the school’s board was “so grateful for President Tetlow’s dedicated leadership and are thrilled for her and her new colleagues at Fordham University.”
Tetlow, who became Loyola’s 17th president in 2018, said in a statement that it has been “the greatest privilege to serve as president of Loyola, an extraordinary institution that means so much to me and generations of my family.”
She described her decision to take this new position as bittersweet but added, “Loyola is in excellent hands.”
Tetlow is credited with steering Loyola through an economic turnaround after the most financially difficult period in its history. During her presidency, the university’s student enrollment and retention increased and the school expanded its online, graduate and professional programs.
“President Tetlow will certainly be missed, and she leaves behind an important legacy,” said Father Daffron, who said he is committed to making this transition as smooth as possible for the school community.