Mary Linden Sepulveda has a unique perspective on Seattle University’s history—from its “lean” years through eventual stability and growth to the diversification of students, faculty and programs—as someone who has been a fiber in the fabric of this place for more than 40 years.
Coordinator of Collection Development at the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, Sepulveda’s job merges the past with the present. Think of her as the de facto university visual archivist, overseeing the innumerable black and white photos, yearbooks, newspaper clippings and other ephemera that encapsulate moments in time reflecting the rich 125-year history of Seattle U. But this is more than just taking stock of boxes of photographs and old books—she experienced firsthand many of the events and happenings around campus when the photos were taken and the articles written.
Take October 1970 when Sepulveda—as a staff member—experienced the economic fragility of the university up close when she and colleagues didn’t get a paycheck. “It was a frightening reality of the state of the university,” she recalls, and one that was fortunately remedied within a month or so thanks to a generous donor who helped keep the lights on and the staff and faculty paid.
Some of Sepulveda’s most cherished memories involve the Jesuits, who transformed her in ways she never imagined.
“My faith life—in fact my whole life perspective—changed when I was introduced to the Jesuits. The Jesuit way in teaching and spirituality is an intentional path. It’s about making choices to become your best self—in thinking, feeling and praying. That self-discovery opened me up to opportunities to give back and live a life for others,” she says. “I am so fortunate to have Jesuit friends and mentors in my life..”
When asked about some Jesuit leaders—including presidents past and present—who were instrumental in the development of Seattle University Sepulveda offered these observations:
The charismatic founder of today’s modern university. He knew everybody and he greeted each of us by first name. He created for us a unique sense of family and a spirit of belonging to Seattle U.
He was known for his contagious optimism in a challenging time for the university. At commencement, Father Gaffney would make it a point to personally thank the parents of the graduates.
From the moment I met him and experienced his intelligence and warmth, I knew he would have answers for what Seattle U needed. His leadership came at the right time—building on the Lemieux legacy while taking Seattle U to new prominence and prosperity.
During this anniversary year, Father Steve has animated our history with wonderful storytelling. At the same time his leadership keeps us looking forward to what we hope to accomplish in the next 25 years and to grow in new ways and extend our mission.
Another unforgettable moment for Sepulveda involved former president William Sullivan, S.J., and the bulldozing of Marion Hall to make room for what today is the Quad and the Tsutakawa fountain. What made it particularly noteworthy was what happened with Father Sullivan behind the wheel of a backhoe, as the building came down. “Hundreds and hundreds of rats fled from that building,” she says, with a laugh. “It was rats and rubble. Sometimes I remember that scene as I walk across campus and wonder where those inner city rats went to live.”
Just as the physical changes to the campus are dramatic so too is the increasing diversity of faculty and students through time, she says.
“Way back [in time] we primarily drew faculty who were mostly Catholic and many of course were priests. That is not the case any longer. Many of our faculty today reflect a variety of nationalities and interests in international scholarship. ”
And the diversity of our students today, Sepulveda says, “mirrors the diversity of the city. Our student body reflects the global growth of Seattle.”
“The Seattle U of old had students learning romance languages and studying abroad in France and Italy. Now with the growth and changes in curriculum we send them around the world to learn what it means to be global citizens. Service projects have always been part of student life here at SU but today it’s both local and global.”
The university’s transformation is attributed to many factors, Sepulveda notes, especially the “vision of so many who are helping to move us in a good direction for the future.”
As for this historian’s thoughts on what she’d like to see for the university in the next 25—or 125—years:
“My greatest hope is that tuition stays affordable so more students from diverse backgrounds can continue to experience what it means to be Jesuit educated. And of course I don’t want us to lose our rich Catholic Jesuit heritage because it’s the Jesuit charism that ignites our mission in service of others. We are truly a gem inside of the city of Seattle.”