Bearing the name of Saint Martin’s College from its earliest history until it became Saint Martin’s University in 2005, Saint Martin’s patron saint is Saint Martin of Tours, a fourth century European missionary and later, Bishop of France.

The university and that of its founder, Saint Martin’s Abbey, sits on 300 acres of peaceful woodlands, meadows and meandering trails. The site was selected in 1893 by Abbot Bernard Locnikar, O.S.B., of Minnesota's Saint John's Abbey, Saint Martin's Abbey’s mother house. At an April 21, 1894, public auction, the parcel that would become the Saint Martin’s campus was purchased for $6,920. Work began on Saint Martin’s first building in January 1895, and by late summer, a four-story structure housing both the school and a monastery were completed.

The early years of Saint Martin's

Postcard of early Saint Martin's College

Saint Martin's opened its doors Sept. 11, 1895, for a single student, Angus McDonald, who reportedly traveled by canoe from Shelton, some 25 miles away. He was joined by several more students in the following weeks, but until their arrival, received 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 enrolled mostly boys and young men between the ages of 10 and 20. Both boarders and "day scholars" were accepted and taught from a curriculum of preparatory and high school classes, plus classical and commercial college courses.

By 1897, 29 grammar and high school students were attending Saint Martin's. College-level courses were added in 1900 to provide the necessary education for candidates planning to enter the Benedictine priesthood.

A high school becomes a college

The 1930's

By the mid-1930s, separately accredited high school and college programs were offered for Saint Martin’s all-male student body. Saint Martin's became a four-year, accredited, baccalaureate-granting institution in 1938, with its first graduates receiving degrees in 1940. While the College virtually came to a standstill during World War II, the postwar years saw the enrollment of hundreds of “G.I. Bill” veterans and a growing list of course offerings.

The 1960's

Saint Martin’s became coeducational in 1965 and began offering extension programs at nearby Fort Lewis Army Post and McChord Air Force Base in 1972. Saint Martin’s High School was closed in 1974, due to declining enrollment.

The 1980's

In the 1980s, Saint Martin’s added graduate programs in education, engineering and counseling psychology to its growing list of undergraduate areas of study. Today, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 27 areas of study and graduate degrees in seven.

The early 2000's

In 2001, the O’Grady Library opened, providing students with a much-needed resource. Designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves, the library has become a signature building on the campus. In 2005, Spangler Hall, a new residence hall named in honor of President Emeritus David R. Spangler, Ph.D., was completed. The College became Saint Martin’s University in August 2005 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. The years 2008 and 2009 brought many changes 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; and the completion of the Charneski Recreation and Fitness Center.


At the beginning of 2009, the University welcomed its 10th president, Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D. In 2011, the name of the street guiding guests through Saint Martin’s main entrance was changed from 6th Avenue to “Abbey Way”—part of the transformation of the north campus that culminated in early 2013 with the courtyard renovation behind Old Main. Also in 2013, the new Fr. Richard Cebula, O.S.B. Hall, home of The Hal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering, opened and achieved Platinum LEED certification; it is currently the highest-rated LEED-certified educational building in the Western Hemisphere and third highest in the world. Located adjacent to Cebula Hall is the new 17,000-square-foot Panowicz Foundry for Innovation and E.L. Wiegand Laboratories. Construction of the industrial lab, which includes a senior project area for student capstone design, was completed in spring 2016. In 2018, the University announced a Science Initative to build a new 30,000-square-foot building to house classrooms, labs and offices for biology, chemistry, physics and math.

Our patron saint, Saint Martin of Tours

Saint Martin of Tours, patron saint of Saint Martin's University, figures prominently in the development of Christianity in fourth-century Europe. During his lifetime, Martin established about 3,500 churches.

Painting of Saint Martin of Tours sharing his cloak

Although his youth was spent as a cavalryman in the Roman army, he longed for something more. He horrified his father, a tribune in the army, by studying to become a Christian.

Legend has it that Martin, while still a soldier, chanced upon a shivering beggar clutching his rags about him in the bitter cold one day. Martin cut his flowing cavalry cloak in two and gave half to warm the beggar. Some time thereafter, Martin had a vision in which the beggar revealed himself to be the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon after, Martin obtained a discharge from the army.

As a free man, he began his commitment to Christianity in earnest, studying under famous scholars and teachers of the era. For many years, he preached and evangelized throughout the countryside, while he helped the poor and the sick. His reputation for holiness attracted other monks, and they formed what would become the Benedictine abbey of Liguge.

Soon, he was considered the holiest man in France.

Although he was sought as a bishop, he chose to remain a missionary until 371, when the people of Tours, France, prevailed on him to become bishop. Even as a bishop, he continued to live a life of humility and compassion. Saint Martin's Abbey and College take their name from this illustrious patron.