On Oct. 14, Tania Tetlow was formally inaugurated as Fordham’s 33rd president, making history as the first layperson and first woman to lead the University.
Now, she said, it is time for us all to make history.
“Today I am asking you to hope. To have the courage to hope. Not because these are hopeful times; they are not. But because these are urgent times,” she said.
“At a moment of darkening clouds in the world, we gather on this bright, shining day to remember that Fordham has such power to make the world a better place.”
Taking Inspiration from a Providential Past
The day began with a Mass at the University Church, in which Joseph M. O’Keefe, S.J., GSAS’ 81, provincial of the USA East Province of the Society of Jesus, confirmed Tetlow in her mission as director of the apostolic work of Fordham. The Mass brought together Jesuits from around the province, including Fordham President Emeritus Joseph M. McShane, S.J., who received several rounds of applause throughout the day.
The festivities drew some 2,000 guests to the Rose Hill campus. In addition to Tetlow’s family and friends, Fordham alumni, faculty, students, administrators, and delegates from nearly 60 universities around the world were present. The formal ceremony on Keating Terrace was followed by a “Prez Fest” celebration on Edwards Parade and a concert featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. The event concluded a weeklong celebration that kicked off with a lecture on Tuesday about Fordham’s place in the world.
In a spirited call to harness the resources of the University to change the world, Tetlow tied her vision of the University’s future directly to the past, citing Archbishop John Hughes’ founding of Fordham 181 years ago.
“In 1841, Archbishop John Hughes struggled to serve the hundreds of thousands of immigrants streaming into New York, so desperate and so determined. He organized food and shelter for them, but he also recognized their deeper hunger for education and opportunity,” she said.
“Hughes founded a college on this spot and called it St. John’s. He did so as an act of hope, because he could see the talent and potential in those desperate people coming off the ships.”
That she should end up leading that college—now a global university—is almost kismet, she said, noting how her father and mother met at the Rose Hill campus as graduate students. Her father, who had been a Jesuit priest for 17 years, made the “agonizing decision” to leave the Society of Jesus to marry her mother and raise Tetlow and her two sisters. Her Uncle Joe, who is 92 years old and watched the ceremony via livestream, is a Jesuit priest and prolific author. Tetlow said she grew up thinking of all Jesuits as uncles.
“I like to think [my father] made the right choice, but regardless, I hope I’ve made it up to the Jesuits,” she said to laughter.
Today, she said, there is a greater need than ever to take a stand for both faith and reason, as Jesuits always have. Education doesn’t dilute faith, she said, it fuels it.
“Within Catholic tradition, there are many models of service, including goodness rooted in purity, in monastic seclusion from the wicked world. The Jesuits chose the riskier path—to engage, to push to make the world better,” she said.
“It often got them in a great deal of trouble. Sometimes it was because of missteps, but more often it was because the world preferred not to be reminded of the clear lessons of the gospels. As my father used to say, ‘They’d rather think Jesus was just kidding.’”
“My dream for Fordham is that we use our resources—especially the brilliance and creativity of our people—to make even more of an impact, starting always in our own community here in the Bronx and expanding outward.”
From NOLA to NYC, Testimonies Abound
The program featured speeches from a wide array of dignitaries. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, delivered the invocation, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer extended his thanks to Father McShane and well-wishes to Tetlow.
Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, shared recollections of his relationship with Tetlow, which she began when she walked into his campaign headquarters as an 18-year-old college student. He called her a “true steel magnolia.”
“She has this incredible humility, this charm, but this underbelly of strength and determination,” he said.
“She will smile, she will listen to you, she will nod her head. But make no mistake about it; she is processing every single word.”
Thomas B. Curran, S.J., president emeritus of Rockhurst University, related his experience of working with her as a board member of Loyola University, where she was president before coming to Fordham.
“Very soon, if it’s not already the case, you will discover what I have come to know of Tania Tetlow. It’s a privilege to know her, it’s a gift to work with her, and it’s a rich blessing to learn from her,” he said.
“With Tania, we are called to be collaborators. This will move us towards the end for which we have been created and help bring forth the greater glory of God.”
Robert Daleo, GABELLI ’72, chair of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, praised Tetlow as “eminently qualified—by temperament, experience, and ability—to lead Fordham at this inflection point in higher education, and in the political and cultural life of our nation.”
John Drummond, Ph.D., Fordham’s Southwell Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and the Humanities, offered his greetings on behalf of the University faculty, while Linda LoSchiavo, TMC ’72, director of the University Libraries, welcomed Tetlow on behalf of administrators and staff.
Students were represented by Djellza Pulatani, president of the United Student Government at Lincoln Center, and Santiago Vidal, executive president of the United Student Government at Rose Hill.
Pulatani said she’s excited to see how Tetlow will “lead us through a new era of robust unity wherein the voice of every Fordham student is heard, listened to, and appreciated.”
“We are inspired by the trailblazer that President Tetlow is, showing the world that women always belong in the place of decision-making,” she said.
“Her presidency will undeniably become a turning point for the women of Fordham University and the successful futures they will have.”
Well-Wishes from Near and Far
David Wilkins knew there was something special about Tetlow from almost the moment he met her when she was a student at Harvard Law School.
“I had Tania as a student in her very first day of law school, and it did not take very long before it was very clear that she was really an extraordinary person,” said Wilkins, who is the Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “She was a brilliant student—at Harvard, we have lots of brilliant students—but she was clearly an extraordinary person.”
Wilkins said that what makes Tetlow so special is how she incorporates her values and principles into everything she does.
“She had a wonderful kind of mind that loves to think about problems and puzzle through them but always with a generosity of spirit,” he said. “When she approached the law and legal issues, it was never just, ‘How do I make my side win?’ or ‘How do I make the most complicated argument that makes me look really smart?’ It was always about, ‘How can we use the law as a tool to solve problems?’”
Wilkins said that Tetlow is someone who was “born to help bridge these divides” that the country is facing at this moment in history.
“I think those are the greatest qualities you can have as a university president—to be an empathetic listener and to be a creative problem solver,” he said.
Fordham students Alessandra Carino and Sean Power said that they were excited to be a part of the inauguration festivities since it was such a historic day for the university.
“I’m very excited about President Tetlow,” said Carino, a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill and the president of the Commuting Students Association. “I think just her perspective as a woman, as a layperson, is really important. I think her lived experience is going to bring a different [way of] problem solving or just a different perspective than the University has seen.”
Power said that he was hopeful she would help maintain Jesuit values at Fordham as she ushers in a new phase.
“President Tetlow, she’s got as much Jesuit background as you can without being a Jesuit, so I’m really excited Fordham’s going to maintain that even with a layperson as president,” he said.
Adrienne de la Fuente, FCLC ’10, said she returned to campus with her husband, David de la Fuente, FCLC ’10, who is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, to see the historic inauguration.
“It’s really great to see the transition from Father McShane’s legacy to President Tetlow,” she said.
De la Fuente said she saw firsthand the impact Father McShane had in making Fordham more of a national name, but she said she’s excited to see where the University can go next, particularly internationally. She works with students applying to schools in the United States, and “this is kind of the first wave of Fordham being something that I hear students ask us about, so I want to see that momentum continue.”
For Jennifer Avegno and her family, the purpose of the trip to Fordham was twofold—her daughters decided to take a tour of the University as prospective students, and she had the chance to see her friend be inaugurated as Fordham’s new president.
“She’s such a wonderful, well-rounded leader—compassionate, smart, thoughtful, spiritual. She’s really the whole package,” Avegno said. “Loyola was so lucky to have her. Fordham is really lucky.”
Avegno said she saw firsthand what Tetlow brought to Loyola New Orleans and she is excited to see what she will do at Fordham, in the heart of New York.
“Is New York ready for her, I think, is the question,” Avegno said with a smile.
—Additional reporting by Kelly Prinz
—Photos by Bruce Gilbert and Chris Taggart
—Video by Taylor Ha and Tom Stoelker