125 years of Saint Martin's University

Through decades of change and growth, the University has held true to its Benedictine values – community, hospitality, stewardship, listening and dignity of work, among others – which remain central to life at Saint Martin’s.

Photo of Old Main at Saint Martin's University in 1895

1890's & 1900's

From parochial beginnings to an incipient college

Photo: Old Main at Saint Martin's University in 1895.

  • 1890's
    • 1893 - The site of the University and that of its founder, Saint Martin’s Abbey, is selected by Abbot Bernard Locnikar, O.S.B., of Minnesota's Saint John's Abbey, Saint Martin's Abbey’s mother house. The location sits on 300 acres of peaceful woodlands, meadows and meandering trails.
    • 1894 - On April 21, the parcel that later becomes the Saint Martin’s campus is purchased for $6,920 at a public auction. 
    • 1895 - Work begins on Saint Martin’s first building in January, and a four story structure housing both the school and a monastery are completed by late summer. Saint Martin's opens its doors Sept. 11, 1895 for a single student, Angus McDonald, who reportedly travels by canoe from Shelton, some 25 miles away. He is joined by several more students in the following weeks, but until their arrival, receives a full course of high school level classes as the school’s lone enrollee. As with other 19th century American Benedictine schools, the new College enrolls mostly boys and young men between the ages of 10 and 20. Both boarders and "day scholars" are accepted and taught from a curriculum of preparatory and high school classes, plus classical and commercial college courses.
    • 1897 - 29 grammar and high school students are attending Saint Martin's.
  • 1900's
    • 1900 - College-level courses are added in to provide the necessary education for candidates planning to enter the Benedictine priesthood.
    • 1903 - "A special building for lay brothers and workers," designed and built by the industrious Father Ulric, is built to the northeast of the original College building.
    • 1904 - A forty-four by sixty-six feet, four story addition is attached to the north side of the 1895 original College structure to double the dining room space and provide room for a "spacious" chapel on the second level. In May, Saint Martin's acquires the services of three Benedictine Sisters from Saint Gertrude's Convent in Cottonwood, Idaho to run its kitchen department.
    • 1905 - The College employed its first lay teacher, Mr. Charles Hoffman.
    • 1906 - Father Sebastian Ruth becomes the first priest specifically ordained for Saint Martin's.
Photo of Saint Martin's football team in 1915

1910's & 1920's

From a good cause in the West to an adolescent institution

Photo: Saint Martin's football team in 1915.

  • 1910's
    • 1910 - A "handsome, modern" ninety by forty-eight feet gymnasium is built on the flats on the east side of campus. It boasts a full-sized handball court and can be used for basketball and indoor baseball.
    • 1912 - Lacey's Benedictine monks approve in principle and initiate planning for a new and much larger building for the 17 year-old institution "to meet the need of proper acommodations" for an "increasing student attendance."
    • 1913 - The new building is completed, with a full basement story containing scientific labs and lecture rooms as well as two social halls. On Nov. 16, the solemn blessing and dedication of the new building takes place and is described as "the largest gathering that [has] ever assembled in the little town of Lacey," with more than 500 hundred people signing the guest book.
    • 1914 - Abbot Oswald Baran is elected by his fellow monks to be Saint Martin's first abbot. The first edition of The Martian, a 70 page quarterly publication appears under the asupices of Father Sebastian Ruth and contains fiction, poetry and general campus news. Also, Father Sebastian Ruth's amateur shortwave radio station, W7YS, first goes on air.
    • 1918 - The eight-foot memorial statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in front of Old Main is donated by the men participating in Saint Martin's first Laymen's Retreat (popular spiritual exercises held in Lacey every summer until 1956).
    • 1919 - On Oct. 6, a tragic fire destroys the new gymanisum.
  • 1920's
    • 1920 - On Oct. 9, two thousand people hear a speech by Robert Bridges, Farmer-Labor Party nominee for governor who is denied use of the Olympia High School auditorium. No other hall in the capital city is large enough to accomodate the anticipated crowd.
    • 1921 - Father Sebastian's "hobby" radio station develops into a part-time, licensed broadcasting station and is assigned the call letters KGY.
    • 1925 - Father Sebastian inaugurates a campus yearbook, the Marian Annual.
    • 1927 - the yearbook is renamed the Samarco.
    • During the Great Depression - The school closes its grammar school and focuses on developing its high school and college programs.
Photo of Saint Martin's campus entrance in 1939

1930's & 1940's

New leadership and challenges

Photo: Saint Martin's campus entrance in 1939.

  • 1930's
    • 1932 - A forest fire threatens the campus and is "brought under control by the combined efforts of faculty and students." 
    • 1934 - In April, the Benedictine Monachist, edited and largely written by Father Sebastian, begins bi-monthly publication with the goal of stimulating further interest in Benedictine and religious matters.
    • 1935 - Separately accredited high school and college programs are offered for Saint Martin’s all-male student body. Father Gerald Desmond serves as dean of the College.
    • 1938 - Saint Martin's becomes a four-year, accredited, baccalaureate-granting institution. Father Martin Toner becomes dean of men.
    • 1939 - Late in the fall semester, an aviation ground school class for 20 men is offered on campus in conjuction with Buroker-Hicks. 
  • 1940's
    • 1940 - Saint Martin’s first graduates receive degrees. 
    • 1943 - Father Raphael Heider is elected third abbot in 1943.
    • 1945 - The College holds its 50th Commencement on June 8 with three College and 16 High School graduates. It also celebrates a joyful but limited observance of its 50th anniversary due to war time constraints.
    • During World War II - The College virtually comes to a standstill, but the postwar years see the enrollment of hundreds of “G.I. Bill” veterans and a growing list of course offerings. Five of the Abbey's priests serve as chaplains stateside and/or overseas in the U.S. Army or Army Air Force.
Photo of Saint Martin's homecoming court 1955

1950's & 1960's

Growth and opportunities

Photo: Saint Martin's homecoming court 1955.

  • 1950's
    • 1953 - Grace. S. Dixon graduates cum laude as valedictorian. A graduate of Tacoma General Hospital's nursing school, she is one of a handful of Olympia-area women allowed by way of exception to complete her coursework at Saint Martin's for a bachelor's degree.
    • 1955 to 1959 - Father Damian Glenn, O.S.B. serves as University president.
    • 1959 - In June, the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Gertrude's Convent in Cottonwood, Idaho withdraw from Saint Martin's culinary and sewing departments.
    • 1959 to 1964 - Father Dunstan Curtis, O.S.B. serves as University president.
  • 1960's
    • 1961 - A curriculum for girls is added to the High School. 
    • 1964 - Father Gerald Desmond is elected Saint Martin's fourth abbot.
    • 1964 to 1971 - Father Michael Feeney, O.S.B. serves as University president.
    • 1965 - In September, a public announcement is made that the College will enroll women in all of its programs. Father Michael quickly begins a search for a dean of women. Mrs. (soon to become Dr.) Elda Brophy is selected for this position. The monks elect Father Gerald Desmond as the new abbot in December. A student Union Building largely funded by the Associated Students organization (ASSMC) is erected.
    • 1966 - The striking three-story Burton Hall residence center is erected near the popular Baran Hall, housing up to 184 students and providing an apartment for the director of residence. Father Michael establishes an advisory Board of Regents to advise the College administration, staff and faculty as to the most effective ways of helping the College grow in quality as well as size. 
    • 1967 - The new Board of Regents' inaugural meeting takes place in the Student Union Building on campus and is chaired by Tacoma businessman Robert P. Mallon.
    • 1968 - Saint Martin's much-needed and long-awaited health and physical education building, initially called the Capital Pavilion, is completed and dedicated in January.
Photo of a student in a Saint Martin's engineering classroom 1971

1970's & 1980's

Changes and more challenges

Photo: A student in a Saint Martin's classroom in 1971.

  • 1970's
    • 1970 - The Abbey Church is completed and becomes the campus' most important building.
    • 1971 to 1975 - Father Matthew Naumes, O.S.B. serves as University president.
    • 1972 - Saint Martin’s begins offering extension programs at nearby Fort Lewis Army Post and McChord Air Force Base.
    • 1974 - Saint Martin’s High School is closed due to declining enrollment.
    • 1975 to 1980 - Father John Scott, O.S.B. serves as University president.
  • 1980's
    • 1980 - The monks of Saint Martin's Abbey elect Father Adrian Parcher to be their sixth abbot. Classical music concerts are held in Abbey Church in observance of the 1500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict.
    • 1980 to 1984 - Dr. John Ishii serves as president of the University, becoming the first layperson to lead the Benedictine College in the school's eighty-five year history.
    • 1982 - The Spiritual Life Institute is established under the joint sponsorship of the College and Abbey.
    • 1984 to 2005 - Dr. David Spangler serves as president of the University.
    • 1985 - The Saint Martin's Athletic Foundation is established "to encourage and enhance the quality" of Saint Martin's intercollegiate and intramural athletic programs.
    • 1986 - On May 23, the Abbey Chapter elects Father Conrad Rausch as the monastery's seventh abbot.
    • Saint Martin’s adds graduate programs in education, engineering and counseling psychology to its growing list of areas of study. The Institute for Pacific Rim Studies is also created, which is now known as the University’s Office of International Program’s and Development.
Photo of Saint Martin's students playing arcade games with a monk 2008

1990's & 2000's

From yesterday to tomorrow

Photo: Saint Martin's students playing arcade games with a monk in 2008.

  • 1990's
    • 1990 - The Saint Martin's Athletic Foundation (SMAF) inaugurates a Saint Martin's Athletic Hall of Fame and begins inducting former campus sports stand-outs at the College's Homecoming celebration.
    • 1991 - Seven Saint Martin's students and staff participated in a 10 day study visit to Japan in May and June.
    • 1992 - The Benedictines of Saint Martin's approve a new Abbey mission statement as a means of restating their purposes and goals. On Aug. 6, the dedication of the renovated Saint Martin's Pavilion and the adjacent Norman Worthington Conference Center is held.
    • 1993 - Abbot Neal Roth, O.S.B. is elected Saint Martin's eighth abbot on May 28.
    • 1994 - The Board of Trustees unanimously approve a new library fundraising program.
    • 1994-1995 - Saint Martin's celebrates its centennial celebration.
    • 1998 - Kreielsheimer Hall, the new arts education building, is constructed.
  • 2000's
    • 2001 - The O’Grady Library opens, providing students with much-needed resources. Designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves, the library is now a signature building on the campus.
    • 2005 - Spangler Hall, a new residence hall named in honor of President Emeritus David R. Spangler, Ph.D., is completed. In August, the College becomes Saint Martin’s University to more accurately reflect the institution’s nature, better fulfill its mission and recognize the wide variety of undergraduate and graduate programs available to students. 
    • 2005 to 2008 - Dr. Douglas Astolfi serves as president of the University.
    • 2008 – Many changes occur to the campus: 
      • The opening of the University’s fourth residence hall, Parsons Hall, named for long-time Saint Martin’s supporters Ken F. Sr. and Gale L. Parsons 
      • The opening of Harned Hall, a state-of-the-art academic building, honoring H.C. “Joe” Harned; the dedication of a world-class track and field facility and the Jan Halliday ’89 Memorial Plaza
    • 2008 - Bryan M. Johnston, J.D. (deceased; never formally inaugurated) and Dr. David Spangler (interim) serve as president of the University.
    • 2009 - The University welcomes its 10th president, Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D, and the Charneski Recreation Center and new track and field facility opens.
Photo of Saint Martin's Old Main in 2017

2010's & today

Celebrating 125 years at Saint Martin's

Photo: Old Main at Saint Martin's University in 2017.

  • 2010's
    • 2011 - The name of the street guiding guests through Saint Martin’s main entrance is changed from 6th Avenue to “Abbey Way”— part of the transformation of the north campus.
    • 2013 - The renovation is completed in the courtyard behind Old Main. The new Father Richard Cebula, O.S.B. Hall, home of The Hal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering, opens and achieves Platinum LEED certification; it is currently the highest-rated LEED-certified educational building in the Western Hemisphere and third highest in the world. 
    • 2016 - Construction of the Panowicz Foundry for Innovation and E.L. Wiegand Laboratories, which includes a senior project area for student capstone design, is completed. The new 17,000 square-foot industrial lab is located adjacent to Cebula Hall.
    • 2018 - The University announces a Science Initative to build a new 30,000 square-foot building to house classrooms, labs and offices for biology, chemistry, physics and math.
    • 2019 - The University opens the Father Bede Ernsdorff, Reischman, O.S.B. Department of Natural Sciences. The new science building includes laboratories, classrooms, collaborative research spaces and offices.