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Tania Tetlow has been named as the first female, non-jesuit, president of Loyola University in New Orleans, La., Friday, May 18, 2018.

Tania Tetlow, a Harvard-educated lawyer who began her career as a federal prosecutor and rose to the No. 2 administrative job at Tulane University, has been named as the first layperson and woman president of Loyola University. 

The board that governs Loyola approved Tetlow, 46, as its 17th leader Friday, culling her from a shortlist of three lay finalists. Every Loyola president before her has been a Jesuit priest.

Tetlow said she felt compelled to apply for the job at the 114-year-old Jesuit institution because of her own Jesuit-inspired commitment to public service. Tetlow has worked for years as an outspoken advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“I was very much raised with Jesuit values and mission... and felt a sense of duty, that you are supposed to put your talents to good use,” she said. “When Loyola thought they might need me, I knew that I needed to step up to the plate.”

While her appointment breaks with tradition, Tetlow’s family has deep ties to the Jesuit religious order. Tetlow grew up in New Orleans, the daughter of a former Jesuit priest who left religious life to start a family. Her uncle is also a Jesuit priest. 

Tetlow's legal, academic and public advocacy work also embodies the Catholic university's ideals, said Robert LeBlanc, a member of the search committee that picked her.

“What made Tania such the obvious choice is that in her daily practices in life, she already understands and embodies the culture of Loyola... and frankly she always has,” said LeBlanc. “It was her cultural fit and her ability to both lead and represent the university that made her the ideal candidate and the perfect choice.”

Tetlow will be expected to draw from her experience as Tulane's senior vice president and chief of staff to stabalize Loyola's finances after five years of layoffs, program cuts and other belt-tightening measures.

She will have to inspire confidence among the university’s faculty, who twice voted that they had "no confidence" in her predecessor, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, during his 14-year tenure.

And she will have to prove herself as an able rainmaker for the Uptown institution, growing Loyola’s network donors and supporters.

The work Loyola has already done as part of its strategic planning process has given the university a strong start, Tetlow said. She intends to spend her first 100 days listening and talking with students, faculty, staff and alumni.

In addition to her ties to the Jesuits, Tetlow’s family has deep connections to the Loyola community. Her grandfather attended the school on a football scholarship in 1928, both of her parents taught at the university and she still attends church at Loyola’s Ignatius Chapel. 

“The Jesuits are thrilled that our first lay president has such a strong Catholic faith and Jesuit background," said Billy Huete, rector of the school's Jesuit community. "Though we were definitely looking for these attributes in all the possible candidates, it would be hard to find a qualified layperson who has a greater understanding and appreciation of what the Society of Jesus tries to be and do in our contemporary world.”

After attending Tulane and then Harvard Law School, Tetlow returned to New Orleans to work for Phelps Dunbar before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office. From there she moved on to Tulane Law School.

Tetlow is perhaps best known for her advocacy on domestic violence and sexual assault during her time at the law school. She spent nearly a decade as the director of Tulane’s Domestic Violence Clinic and helped craft a blueprint for fixing endemic problems in the way the New Orleans Police Department handles sexual assault cases. She was also chosen by the U.S. State Department as one of four people to represent the country at international talk about violence against women in Beijing.

In 2015, Tetlow was hired as Tulane President Mike Fitts' chief of staff.

“That has been an unbelievable training... because I worked with the president of Tulane on almost every aspect of his work and it’s rare to have that kind of breadth,” she said. “Usually you are in kind of that academic depth of the university. I have straddled both and I have learned so much.”

In an email, Fitts said that while the news of Tetlow’s appointment inspires many emotions, “the overarching one is pride” over someone who has been a “mainstay” of the Tulane community for decades.

“The Loyola community will soon learn what we at Tulane have known for years, that Tania Tetlow is an extraordinary, visionary leader, an exceptional, fair-minded colleague and an exemplar of trust and integrity,” Fitts said. “She leaves Tulane with our deepest gratitude and heartfelt wishes for every success. We could not ask for a better neighbor.”

Wildes, who will be taking a position at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, said the most important thing for Tetlow to do is listen to her faculty and staff.

"We’ve done a lot of work in recent years, and I feel good about leaving the university," he said. "But no matter how familiar you are with it, I think its good to listen to all points of view."

The transition comes as Loyola has been struggling for a half-decade. Low enrollment prompted five rounds of layoffs, restructuring, and dipping into the endowment to pay for operational expenses.

Tetlow said she's not yet in a position to comment on what could be done differently moving forward, but praised gains the university has made in enrollment and retention as well as the commitment of its students and faculty.

"I don’t see anything that the school could change or do differently," she said. "I’m eager to get into the trenches with all the people who have been working so hard on all these issues. I know that everyone here is really focused on execution and committed."

Staff writer Jeff Adelson contributed to this report.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.