Consider the Rev. Joseph A. Sellinger, S.J.: part man of God, part tough administrator, part financial hustler extraordinaire.

Although he would not put it quite that way, he acknowledges that these are the ingredients for survival as president of a modern Roman Catholic college.

Sellinger, at 63, should know. This month, he observed his 20th year as president of Loyola College here, becoming one of the longest-tenured college presidents in the United States.

In those 20 years, Sellinger, like other academic priests of his generation, underwent not one, but two severe tests of the 1960s and 1970s -- campus revolution and the sweeping reforms of Vatican II.

"It was a double jolt," said the affable, white-haired Sellinger in a recent interview. But he survived, and today he heads an institution which, against his original druthers, he converted from an isolated "little red school house" on Cold Spring Lane in north Baltimore to a vastly enlarged, mainstream college. It now has deep roots in the academic and business communities of the city.

In the process, Sellinger has become a kind of corporate outrider: Like scores of lay presidents of colleges in search of financial support, he serves on the boards of local businesses, playing weekend golf with company vice presidents, and drives a luxury car. The car, a Cadillac, was given to Loyola by a longtime supporter.

"I don't feel ill at ease working in those circles," Sellinger said unabashedly. "I'm president of this institution, and I feel it needs the best representation in these circles."

Fund-raising "is my primary responsibility," he said, and in a world of limited resources, "I am trying to raise money and -- I hate to use the term -- cultivate potential donors . . . . The college is the most important thing in my life."

The result: Enrollment at Loyola, one of 28 Jesuit schools in the country, has nearly tripled from 2,000 to more than 5,500 students since Sellinger's arrival. The curriculum has been expanded, new land acquired, buildings constructed -- sometimes triggering bruising fights with residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

All that expansion took money, and Sellinger found that, despite his humble status as a priest, he was good at getting it. He plays this down, but his reputation as a powerful persuader is almost mythic.

Last year alone, Loyola raised nearly $3 million in gifts, most of it from four Baltimore families. One donor pledged $1 million with the condition that the college rename its business school after Sellinger. It did.

Loyola under Sellinger's leadership was a principal plaintiff in the landmark 1976 Supreme Court ruling giving church schools access to state financial aid. Since that year, Loyola has received more than $4.5 million in state construction funds, second only to the much larger Johns Hopkins University among Maryland's 14 private colleges and universities.

"He's very articulate . . . . He's been very successful in competing with other private colleges," said Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George's), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees general-obligation bond legislation for higher education construction projects each year.

During the legislative season, Sellinger is a familiar figure in the corridors of the State House in Annapolis as he lobbies for Loyola. "Father Joe, that's what we call him," said Maloney. "He's a great booster. He's sort of the Lee Iacocca of higher education."

"His friends are legion, and they go beyond the Catholic Church," said Dan Loden, a Loyola alumnus and a local marketing consultant.

By his admission, Sellinger came kicking and screaming into the mid-20th century when he took over Loyola in 1964.

"Being basically conservative," he said, "I was unprepared for the changes on campus as well as the changes in the Roman Catholic Church . . . . Just saying mass for the first time facing the congregation and going from Latin to English -- from the Latin which we so cherished -- those changes were traumatic."

In 1964, Loyola was a small, austere all-male enclave of 2,000 students, most of them Catholic and most commuters from the Baltimore area. "Everybody was required to wear tie and coat . . . . No beards or mustaches were allowed," said Sellinger, who had come to the school after a decade of teaching theology at Georgetown University, where he was also dean of arts and sciences. The idea of going coeducational at Loyola was out of the question, he said.

As the storms of protest for greater academic freedom and relaxation of campus rules swept the country in the late 1960s, Sellinger vowed he would not give in.

"Of course," he said, "I lived to eat those words. Because of my kind of strict approach . . . I was getting very much out of sync with the students. They knew I was not in touch with them. I wasn't at ease with them. I was angry at them . . . yet I was doing nothing about it."

He said he came to this realization during a mandatory annual summer retreat with fellow Jesuits in 1969 or 1970, "and I like to think God helped me realize my mistakes. When I came back to school in September, I got over that bad period."

Since them, Loyola has gone coeducational, and it is now slightly more than 50 percent female. Residential halls have been built for out-of-state students, the campus has gone from 35 to 60 acres and the curriculum has been broadened and includes a graduate program in business and finance.

The student body, with whom Sellinger said he has reestablished rapport, is more broad-based. Students come from 14 states, which may not seem like much, the college president said, but this represents a quantum leap in geographical diversity compared to the days in the 1960s when Loyola was strictly a commuter day-school. While 75 to 80 percent of the 2,500 undergraduates are Catholic, more than 50 percent of 3,000 graduate students are non-Catholic, Sellinger said.

Also, he said, Loyola now ranks sixth highest in freshman SAT scores among the country's 28 Jesuit colleges and universities. Georgetown University in Washington continues to rank first with a 1,250 median combined freshman SAT score, compared with Loyola's 1,072, Sellinger said.

As for the image of a priest traveling in the circles of the rich and powerful, Sellinger said fund-raising is a necessary function for the survival of small independent schools throughout the country. He said his membership on corporate boards, for example, has the approval of the country's Jesuit hierarchy.

"It certainly makes it easier to approach these men and ask for their help," he said. " . . . Much as we laugh about it, playing golf with them makes it easier. My Jesuit colleagues kid me about it. They say it's a phony reason to play golf."

The Rev. Richard McSorley, a fellow Jesuit who teaches at Georgetown University's Center for Peace Studies and represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Sellinger's conservatism, says there is an arguable need for Sellinger's kind of work, but said: "I wouldn't want the job. I find fund-raising repugnant." Such work, he said, "is risky; you can lose your ideals . . . but I don't sense that in Sellinger."

Sellinger serves on the boards of the Easco Corp., an industrial hand-tool manufacturer, Crown Central Petroleum Corp. and the Equitable Trust Co., all of Baltimore. In turn, several local corporate executives serve as trustees of Loyola, including Edward J. Donnelly, retired chairman of Easco.

Jack Moseley, chairman of the influential United States Fidelity and Guaranty Co., heads Loyola's current $10.3 million campaign to underwrite a new school of business and management and improve programs in engineering and humanities.

Loyola's link with corporate Baltimore has become a two-way street, Sellinger is fond of noting, because "we've sent a lot of young men and women from our business and computer science schools out into the work force, to USF&G, to Baltimore Gas and Electric and Black and Decker."

According to Loyola financial figures, the bulk of last year's record-breaking $3 million in private contributions came from four sources:

* The Donnelly family, $150,000 toward an engineering science endowment.

* Local builder Joseph Schwartz, $250,000 to match a National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant.

* The Theodore Julio family, also local builders, $500,000 for the Julio Fine Arts Wing of the DeChiaro College Center.

* The anonymous donor who contributed $1 million contingent on the renaming of the business school as the Joseph A. Sellinger S.J. School of Business and Management