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Q&A with Tammy Liddell

Written by Mike Thee
August 19, 2014

Having earned an undergraduate degree at Creighton and working at Boston College (BC) for the past 14 years, Tammy Liddell knows her way around a Jesuit institution. And yet the new director of Campus Ministry seems just as awe-struck as familiar with the ways in which SU lives out its Jesuit mission. Liddell recently sat down for a conversation. Here are excerpts. 

The Commons: How did you wind up working in the field of campus ministry?

Tammy Liddell: I'm from San Diego and followed my sister to Creighton. I started out as a pre-med student but decided to go the theology route. I always wanted to see what I could do with theology, so I ended up in an M.Div. program at Notre Dame to get trained for ministry. I then worked with L'Arche, a community for adults with disabilities, in Kilkenny, Ireland, for a few years and in Massachusetts before starting as a full-time campus minister.

The Commons: What were you doing at BC?

Tammy Liddell: I was involved in all aspects of campus ministry, but most recently their alternative spring break program in the Appalachian region, which involves 500 students per year. Another highlight was coordinating the distribution of communion to 40,000 people at a mass at Fenway Park to celebrate BC's Sesquicentennial in 2012.

The Commons: What have been your first impressions of SU?

Tammy Liddell: I've received an amazing welcome. I'm feeling very at home here with the Jesuit tradition and the way that it's uniquely lived out here at Seattle U. It's very different than a lot of places; I'm relishing the difference. This place has a lot of heart. When I even look around and see the commitment to sustainability and the outreach to the students who at many other schools feel like they are in the margins, I feel very grateful to be part of that overall vision. I don't know if folks here realize how unique it is-I'm not saying you all take it for granted-but I'm just sort of falling in love with the difference. I've always been ready to come back to the west coast to do ministry and feel comfortable with what we call Seattle's "unchurched population."

The Commons: Somewhat along those lines, compared to BC and other Jesuit institutions, SU has a relatively low percentage of students who identify as Catholic. In terms of the work of Campus Ministry, do you see that as an opportunity or a challenge?

Tammy Liddell: It's probably a little bit of both, but I see it as an opportunity for creativity. It really encourages us to see how the spirit of St. Ignatius and our unique way of doing education can be lived out in creative ways and how that spirit can be translated into the lives of very diverse students coming from different ethnic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds and religious backgrounds without needing to convert anyone to anything-but just invite them into that spirit.

I'm always surprised when students find (Ignatian spirituality) more accessible than they think they're going to. I expect that happens a lot here. (Much of our role as campus ministers) is encourage them to reflect on their lives as an integrated whole-their social, their spiritual and their intellectual lives-and accompany them (as they discover) what's transcendent in their lives, however they're naming God. And always doing that in the context of community-helping them form groups where they can find meaning-through service or through prayer or worship or meditation or just exploring the questions. So I think campus ministry is uniquely situated to find that balance between the programs that people can join and be a part of and also the ministry of presence that the campus ministers and resident ministers and our Jesuits on campus can offer to the students.

The Commons: Looking back on your 14 years at BC, what was most rewarding or what brought you the most pride?

Tammy Liddell: I loved working with students in an urban setting where they really wanted to not only wanted to bring about change in the world-which hopefully all of our students want to do-but they wanted to bring about change at BC. So those were my people. I really loved helping to form them as leaders for the future in the Church and in the civic realm and in whatever professional lives they were going to go into. So I'm really proud of the work I did with student leadership, but I never think about it on the bigger scale. I think about it as individuals and looking at those students who were in front of me every day.

The Commons: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Tammy Liddell: I like to garden. We also like to do outdoor things with the kids. One of the promises to our 10-year-old daughter was her very own kayak-and it's supposed to be orange. Our (12-year-old) son is looking forward to being in Seahawk country although he is Red Sox fan by birth and says he will remain so. We're all excited about diving into the Puget Sound lifestyle.