Lemieux, Reverend A. A. (1908-1979)

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/18/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7296
Reverend A. A. Lemieux, a Jesuit priest, served as president of Seattle University for 17 years, from 1948 to 1965. He is credited with transforming the university from a small Jesuit college into a major urban Jesuit university. Under his guidance, Seattle University's enrollment climbed steadily, 20 new buildings were constructed, and the curriculum was enriched with many new and vital academic programs. Lemieux also contributed greatly to civic life in Seattle. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Father Lemieux First Citizen of 1956.

Early Life

Albert Arby Lemieux was born on September 13, 1908, in Wallace, Idaho, one of eight children. His father was Albert Joseph Lemieux. His mother was Clara Gingras Lemieux. At the time of Lemieux's birth, his father worked in the local silver mine. When Lemieux was two years old, a forest fire devastated the town. Lemieux, his mother, and his two older brothers were evacuated by train to Missoula, Montana, taking with them only the few belongings they could grab as they fled the flames. Lemieux's father later joined them, eventually finding work with the Missoula Mercantile Company. 

Arby (as he was known throughout his life) Lemieux attended Loyola High School in Missoula, a Jesuit school. Arby played football and basketball, and after school and during summer vacations he held various odd jobs: farmhand, message boy, dishwasher, and section-gang laborer for the Northern Pacific Railroad. By the time he reached his senior year of high school he was wavering between two career paths: becoming a lawyer or entering the priesthood. "In the last six weeks of my senior year I firmed it up," he later told a reporter (Clarke).

Becoming a Jesuit

In 1925 at the age of 17, Lemieux entered the noviate of the Society of Jesus (commonly known as the Jesuits) in Los Gatos, California. He earned an A.B. degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane in 1931 and an M.A. in 1932. From 1932 to 1935 he taught philosophy and Latin at Gonzaga. After four years of theology study at the Jesuit House in Alma, California, Lemieux was ordained as a Jesuit Priest in 1938. Tertainship (the last year of a Jesuit education, intended for intense prayer and spiritual reflection) at Manresa Hall in Port Townsend followed.

In 1945 he earned his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. Returning to Spokane, Father Lemieux taught philosophy at Mount St. Michael's Seminary for four years. From 1945 to 1947, he served as Dean of the School of Philosophy at Gonzaga. From 1947 to 1948 he served as Dean of Facilities.

Seattle University: A Life Work

In 1948 Lemieux, then age 39, was named president of Seattle College, which was granted its university charter (becoming Seattle University) on May 28, 1948, eight days after his inauguration. Lemieux was Seattle University's 15th president. Lemieux, who stood more than six feet tall, quickly became a highly visible and highly involved campus figure. Students found him approachable and unpretentious. Seattle Times reporter Nancy B. Clarke later noted that Lemieux "made it his business to know as many of the young people enrolled in his school as he could -- nearly every morning at 10 he'd stroll over to the Chieftain (the student union building) and mix with the students and have coffee with them -- he'd frequently drop by the student officers' room for an informal chat, and his own door was always open for students to do the same" (Clarke).

Father Lemieux had his work cut out for him: The school lacked firm connections to the Seattle business community and lacked an endowment to assure ongoing financial security. The physical plant was deteriorating. The staff was underpaid. Student tuition ($180/year in 1948) was relatively high, but had not been managed effectively to cover expenses. 

Lemieux galvanized students and worked steadily to build community support. He established a public relations office for the school, encouraged the establishment of a women's guild, established a Reserve Officer Training Corps unit on campus, and worked to integrate the previously all-white student body.

Community and Connection

Lemieux credited Seattle real estate broker Henry Broderick with helping him acclimate to his new position. "When I arrived to take over the presidency, just a young man, he took me under his wing," Lemieux told Seattle Times reporter Nancy B. Clarke, adding that during his entire presidential tenure Broderick was "like a father" to him (Clarke). Broderick, extraordinarily well connected within the Seattle business community, introduced Father Lemieux to many local Movers and Shakers who would quickly prove invaluable to Lemiuex's efforts at Seattle University.

On January 24, 1951 Lemieux created a Board of Regents for Seattle University, further strengthening ties to the broader Seattle business community (both Catholic and non-Catholic). He secured a $1.2 million federal loan to build a much-needed women's dormitory (Marycrest). Approval for the loan was arranged with help from Senator Warren G. Magnuson, a powerful friend of Seattle University. A new men's dormitory (Xavier Hall) and a new Jesuit housing facility (Loyola Hall) soon followed. Lemieux also deputized Seattle attorney George Stuntz, a Seattle University graduate, to create the Seattle University Associates. The purpose of the Associates was to solicit public donations. Many more new modern facilities sprouted across campus as Lemieux's fundraising efforts began to take effect.

The connections Lemieux fostered with the broader Seattle community were a two-way street: He welcomed Seattleites into the University community and he personally went out into the Seattle community as both a civic leader and a vibrant ambassador for Seattle University. Among the many civic committees Lemieux served on the during his years as president were the Blue Cross, the Northwest Association of Secondary and High Schools, and the Association of Non-Tax-Supported Colleges and Universities in Washington. Lemieux served as treasurer for the Seattle Urban League, as a trustee for the World Affairs Council, and on the committee of the 1962 Century 21 (World's Fair) Exposition. He also worked extensively for the United Good Neighbors campaign.

During Lemiuex's tenure at Seattle University the school's basketball team, the Chieftains, became nationally ranked. The Chieftain's performance aided Lemieux's fundraising efforts and brought Seattle University into national prominence. Lemieux encouraged the team, attending their games and many of their practices.

Accolades and Honors

In 1956, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Father Lemieux First Citizen of 1956. In announcing the award, Association President Kenneth Chaney said, "His record of accomplishment is a vital example of a young, dynamic leader devoted to the cause of youth.  This recognition carries with it a tribute to Seattle University, which, by growth and scholastic excellence, has achieved national recognition of which all Seattle is justly proud" (The Seattle Times, December 12, 1956). Lemieux received the distinctive First Citizen bronze plaque at the Real Estate Association's banquet on January 22, 1957.

In 1959 Seattle Lodge 503 B'nai B'rith named Father Lemieux Man of the Year. The award honors service in human relations.

Last Presidential Years

In 1964, with the campus physical facilities vastly improved, Lemieux turned his attention to academic reform. A new curriculum called the Seattle Plan was developed. This curriculum  attempted to preserve an 80 credit-hour liberal arts core "to instill the habit of wisdom" while adding more flexibility for electives and specialization (Crowley, 77).

In 1965 Lemieux left Seattle University. Under his watch the school had grown from a two-block campus with one main building and 2,800 students into the largest private university in the state. Twenty buildings had been erected or remodeled and the student population had swelled to 4,000. Such growth was personally taxing: Lemieux told Lane Smith, religion editor for The Seattle Times that "A president gets pressure within the university for providing excellence in the faculty. He has to give leadership to students and keep close contact with them for they are the university. He must be related to the community and interpret the university to it. And he must raise funds ("Lemieux Reviews 'Pressures'").

A faculty member who had been a student when Lemieux assumed the presidency told Smith that the announcement of Lemieux's departure "seemed to take years off" Father Lemieux's face. More than 800 alumni, business and educational leaders, and friends honored Lemieux at a farewell banquet at the Olympic Hotel. He in turn praised the Seattle business community for contributing $7 million to the University's growth. In return, Lemieux said, the community "gets its future -- its leaders, its trained personnel, and you hope you are sending out good human beings who will take a meaningful part in community life. The university also has become an economic force in the city life" (The Seattle Times, February 4, 1965). 

President Lyndon Johnson sent Lemieux a letter of congratulations and appreciation of his "invaluable services to education and to our society" (Clarke). The Rev. John A. Fitterer, Father Lemieux's successor as Seattle University president, told The Seattle Times, "Now I know how it feels to come to bat after Mickey Mantle" (February 3, 1965).

Rest and Reflection

Lemieux took a sabbatical leave for study and travel, visiting the Holy Land, and doing post-graduate study in theology at Marquette University. He was then named rector at Mount St. Michael's Seminary in Spokane. 

In 1966 Seattle University's A. A. Lemieux Library, for which Lemieux had raised 2.5 million dollars, was named in honor of Father Lemieux. The Department of the Army awarded him the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. The French government presented him with the Ordre des Palmes Academiques in recognition of Lemieux's outstanding contributions to the field of education.

In 1967 Father Lemieux returned to Seattle University to spearhead a much-needed fundraising campaign. Along with longtime Seattle University regent William Boeing, he mounted a three-year Stabilization Fund campaign that raised $3 million. This money resolved Seattle University's financial crisis. Boeing described Lemieux's fundraising appeals as "awfully hard to refuse." He elaborated: "He has something -- the Jesuits would give their right arm to have more Father Lemieuxs" (Clarke).

Lemieux's dedication, sincerity, track record of community service, and personal touch helped him create and build Seattle University's endowment fund. His personal faith and example opened both community doors and checkbooks. In 1976 Lemieux was named Seattle University's second chancellor. As chancellor, Lemiuex advised Seattle University President, Rev. William J. Sullivan, S.J., and served as liaison between the University and the Seattle community. He also continued to reach out to students, often introducing himself to them as he walked around campus.

Going Home

Father Lemieux suffered a heart attack while walking across the Seattle University campus and he died in Seattle on January 10, 1979.

He was eulogized at a joint funeral at St. James Cathedral in Seattle along with fellow Jesuits James J. Cowgill and Arthur C. Earl, who had also died that week. The funeral mass was celebrated by nearly 180 priests. Father William J. Sullivan, S.J., delivered a homily in which he said of Father Lemieux, "His greatest contribution was his vision of what Seattle University could be" (The Spectator). Representatives of Seattle University's trustees, academic deans, board of regents, and officers and senators of the Associated Students of Seattle University served as honorary pallbearers.

Father Lemieux is buried at Mt. Saint Michael's cemetery in Spokane.

Sources: Who's Who In Washington 1963 Century 21 Edition ed. Bernice White (Olympia: Hugh L. White, 1963), p. 273; Walt Crowley, Seattle University: A Century of Jesuit Education (Seattle: Seattle University, 1991); "Former S. U. President Lemieux Dies," The Seattle Times, January 10, 1979; "Fitting Tribute To Father Lemieux," Ibid., April 4, 1965; "Lemieux To Be Rector of Seminary," Ibid., January 12, 1966; "Lemieux Leaving: Fitterer To Head S.U.," Ibid., February 3, 1965; "S.U. President Honored by B'nai B'rith,"  Ibid., April 13, 1959; "Alumni To Fete Father Lemieux," Ibid., February 7, 1958; "Father Lemieux Named City's 1st Citizen for 1956," Ibid., December 18, 1956; "Father Lemieux Installed As Seattle College Head," Ibid., May 20, 1948; Lane Smith, "17 Years as S.U. President: Lemieux Reviews 'Pressures,'" The Seattle Times, February 4, 1965; "Rev. A. A. Lemieux, Former Seattle U President, Dies," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 11, 1979; Nancy B. Clarke, "Seattle U.'s Father Lemieux: He 'Went Home,'" The Seattle Times Magazine, February 13, 1977; "A History Of Excellence," Seattle University website accessed on March 2, 2005(http://www.seattleu.edu/home/history/fla/section5.html); Christine Taylor, "Manresa Castle Hotel, Port Townsend, website accessed on March 3, 2005 (http://www.seattlearch.org/ArchdioceseWorking/ ArchivesandRecords/Gallery/dyouknow04.htm.htm); The Spectator, January 17, 1979, p. 1; Tom Parker, "Lemieux: Man of Vision For S.U.," The Spectator, January 17, 1979, p. 3.

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