Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Father Sundborg Given Seattle First Citizen Award


The Seattle-King First Citizen Award salutes “giving back,” whether that be through time, treasure, or talent. Past recipients, dating as far back to the award’s inception in 1939, range greatly from humanitarian groups, corporations, charitable, health, and educational institutions to various arts, environmental, and civic organizations.

This year, Seattle University President Father Stephen V. Sundborg S.J. became the 81st recipient of the award.

The historic First Citizen Award continues to celebrate community leadership, volunteerism, and public service. Sundborg has been described by a Seattle King-County executive as a “selfless leader” who “shows up” with the “obvious heart of a servant.”

The organization itself is a nonprofit professional trade association whose goals include promoting ethical business practices and supporting policies that preserve and expand real property rights and housing affordability. The board felt as though they made the right choice in choosing Father Sundborg as the recipient.


Father SJ. Sundborg received the Seattle King County First Citizen Award for 2019.

David A. Sabey, a member of Seattle U’s Board of Trustees and Sabey Corporation President, described Sundborg as “a phenomenal leader who has given much to his university and to his community and asked for nothing in return.”

Sabey remarked that he is impressed with Sundborg’s long-term commitment to various organizations.

“I have been consistently impressed with his dedication to students, faculty, and staff, his tempered and collegial leadership abilities, and his obvious heart of a servant,” he said.

Sundborg, who has served as the President of Seattle U for 22 years, was surprised but gratified to have received such an honor.

“I didn’t think I deserved it…I didn’t think I’d involved myself as much in the community as some other people  I know, and what they’ve done,” Sundborg said.

However, when reflecting upon Sundborg’s involvement both inside and outside the University, the board felt as though Sundborg was an obvious choice.

Diane Douglas, senior advisor at Uncommon Partners, commented on Sundborg’s leadership qualities.

“[Sundborg] has always struck me as a selfless leader keen on doing more than his part to make this region the best it can be,” Douglas said.

With a prior position as the Executive Director at Seattle City Club, Douglas said that she has seen visionary leadership through the multitude of tasks Sundborg has undertaken as President.

“He speaks out on issues of social justice, he encourages active and engaged citizens, and he shows up at community events and models his deep commitment to community building,” she said.

Sundborg, who is the third President of Seattle U to win the award, joins predecessors Rev. Albert A. Lemieux, S.J. (1956) and Rev. William J. Sullivan, S.J. (1990). As only the third religious figure to have been chosen, Sundborg noted the significance of the award.

“Father Sullivan received it in 1990 and Father Lemieux in 1956 after 17 and 20 years. I’ll serve for 22, so that’s quite unusual because there’s not many religious figures chosen for the award. I’ve only seen one to two others. It’s a real honor and I’m gratified,” Sundborg said.

The award, which has no religious undertone but instead focuses on community involvement and outreach, incorporates factors Sundborg feels as though he embodies.

“I think there’s something different aboutitbecauseI’mapriest.I’msort of a religious and moral leader for the city, and I think they see that,” he said.

Seattle U, whose mission revolves around the identity of the individual in their entirety and engagement within all aspects of life, ties in with the purpose of the First Citizen Award.

“As a Jesuit, our mission is to engage people with where they are and be on that place where the Church meets the culture. I feel like I have access and connection to people that otherwise would not have a connection with a priest…I’m often connected in that in a different sort of way,” Sundborg said.

With two years left to serve as the President of Seattle U, Sundborg feels as though the award has been granted at an opportune time.

“As President of the University, the most important thing to do is inspire and make it possible for students and alumni to do what they do within the community, rather than what I do individually and personally within the community,” he said.

Sundborg’s goals for his final two years as President revolve around various elements of community engagement and outreach, all of which Seattle King County feel as though have made him a worthy choice for 81st recipient of the First-Citizen Award.

Nicole may be reached at
[email protected]

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