Seattle University: A History of Excellencephoto caption: students pose during a mathematics lesson.You are viewing the Text-Only version, launch the Flash site
1948-1965: Coming of Age

The new university quickly achieved national prominence, thanks in part to its success on the basketball court. But behind the scenes, Father Lemieux opened a new era in the school’s relationship with the city. He turned to its lay community for advice, assistance, and occasional donations.

The ‘50s were an era of complex changes at SU, the details of which are easily overlooked in light of its more straightforward success on the basketball court. In 1950, Coach Al Brightman recruited the “Golden Twins,” Eddie and Johnny O’Brien, who led the Chieftains to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 1953. The team had a full decade of success, reaching its pinnacle with star Elgin Baylor and the 1958 NCAA championship game.

Progress of a different and more lasting kind was also being made. Like many Catholic institutions, Seattle University was swept up in the liberalization of doctrine that culminated in the Vatican II Council. It responded by intensifying its outreach to the area community. Lemieux created a lay Board of Regents to advise and assist the president and trustees. Enrollment swelled to more than 3,000 thanks to low fees and a strong faculty commitment to teaching.

Meanwhile, the SU campus began taking its recognizable modern shape. Lemieux reached out to generous donors like Paul Pigott and Thomas Bannan, who funded new dormitories and classroom buildings. In 1963, SU joined the information age by opening a computer center, complete with a half-ton IBM 1620 computer. The future, it seemed, couldn’t be brighter.

Father Lemieux

Father Albert A. Lemieux would serve as one of Seattle University’s longest running and most successful presidents. When he arrived in 1948, he was only 39 years old, but already had served as dean at Gonzaga. His 17 year tenure covered a time of great building and outreach for the university. Among the many buildings he helped fund was the Lemieux Library, which was dedicated after his departure.

Lemieux would leave in 1965 to take up other challenges, but would return in 1970 to launch a “stabilization” drive to restore the university’s then-crippled finances. He became chancellor in 1976 and continued serving the university until his death in January 1979. At a memorial service, Father Sullivan eulogized him with a simple epitaph: Si momentum requires, circumspice. If you are seeking his monument, look around.

Future governors: John Spellman and Frank Murkowski

These years saw Seattle University graduate two future governors. John Spellman, ’49, would later lead the state of Washington, while Frank Murkowski, ‘55, would hold the same office in Alaska.

Regent Thomas J. Bannan

Among Lemieux’s many changes was the appointment of a lay Board of Regents to advise the president and trustees of the university. For its chairman, he selected a man whose family had a long history of support for Jesuit education. Thomas J. Bannan was the president of Seattle’s Western Gear Works, a manufacturing company that produced specialized equipment for the aerospace, oceanography, and other specialized uses.

Bannan’s generosity and service to the university is reflected in the Thomas J. Bannan Center for Science and Engineering, and the Thomas J. Bannan Endowed Chair in Engineering.

Father Royce and alcoholism

One of the first new faculty members after the war was Father James Royce, SJ, a psychologist recruited by Father McGoldrick. Royce is now famed as an expert on alcoholism, but he reached the subject in a roundabout way. In his work as a pastoral counselor, he came into contact with students who had drinking problems. Royce began scouring the records and talking to experts to find out about the treatment of the problem. This became the basis for a course in 1950, which was expanded into a special curriculum. Royce would eventually publish the first textbook on the subject, Alcohol Problems and Alcoholism, in 1981.

Among his other achievements are a book on the philosophical dimensions of psychology, Man and Meaning, and the founding (with William Guppy) of the university’s innovative Psychological Services Center in 1952.

Seattle University athletes on the world stage

The ‘50s and ‘60s were a golden age for Seattle University athletics. The basketball team regularly made the NCAA tournament with stars like Elgin Baylor and the O'Brien twins. At the same time, Janet Adkisson, ‘56, and Pat Harbottle, ‘56, honed their world class skills in tennis and golf, by playing on men's teams. Another SU alumnus, Jim Whittaker, ‘52, would become the first American to conquer Mt. Everest on May 1, 1963.

Fred and Dorothy Cordova

In the early ‘50s, Dorothy Cordova, nee Laigo, ‘53, and Fred Cordova, ‘52, were a among a growing number of Filipino-Americans on campus. Though they experienced a degree of prejudice, they would maintain their relationship with the university for many years serving it as lecturers, publicists, as well as advisory committee members.

But they are best known for founding the Filipino-American National Historical Society. Begun as a hobby with a single file folder in 1970, it has grown to be a national organization with 21 chapters. Its archives contain hundreds of oral histories, photos, videos, and slide shows.

In recognition of their work, Seattle University granted them both honorary doctorates in 1998.

Life on campus

Seattle University’s appeal to students in the Sullivan era boiled down to one word—community. Much attention was given to students’ spiritual as well as intellectual development. The ratio of faculty then—as now—never exceeded double digits and there were no “teaching assistants.” In addition, all of the Jesuits lived on campus, and students could easily share a cigarette with Father Toulouse or a cookie with Father McGoldrick.

At the same time, students could cheer along as their beloved Chieftains racked up an impressive number of wins for the small college (and moan when those same Chieftains became involved in scandals). A large number of after school events, from Sadie Hawkins dances to the sailing club, took up the rest of their time.