On November 8, the Saint Martin’s University community will come together to appreciate veterans and their families with their annual Veterans Day celebration. This year’s celebration continues traditions of the previous years, which center around honoring veterans, past and present, and brings in a new tradition that connects to the University’s namesake—a lantern procession.

Saint Martin’s University has a close connection with the military community. They began offering programs at Fort Lewis Army Post and McChord Air Force Base (now consolidated into Joint Base Lewis McChord) in 1972. In March of 2019, the University was designated as a Purple Heart University—the first in Washington State and is recognized as a 2019-2020 Military Friendly School, ranked in the top 10 of its category. “Our veteran students contribute to the diversity of our student body and add a perspective that enriches conversations and learning on the campus,” says Alexis Nelson, director of campus life and chair of the Veteran Committee for Saint Martin’s.

“We would like to host an event to honor all of our community members—both at Saint Martin’s and those from the Lacey-Olympia area—who have served in the military with a Veterans Day luncheon program,” says Nelson. “We will have a barbeque and a 45-minute program including student speaker Christina Allen and monastic member Brother Nicolaus, who will also speak, as well as other members of the veterans club.”

November 11 is also a day to honor one very special veteran, Saint Martin of Tours, the University’s namesake. The Saint Martin’s Benedictine Scholars, a group of students chosen to serve as ambassadors for the core values of the institution—faith, reason, service and community, have been hard at work planning a lantern processional to honor Martin. The lantern procession is new to the University, but the tradition itself is very old.

Saint Martin's University Veterans Day and Procession David Orwell Event
The Veterans Day events will be held at Saint Martins University on Friday November 8. David Orwell, Ph.D. dean of the Hal and Inge Marcus School of Engineering, was one of the speakers at the 2018 event. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

In many places in Europe, especially German-speaking countries, Saint Martin’s Feast Day is celebrated with a colorful lantern procession, explains Patrick Cooper, Ph.D., director of the Benedictine Institute and assistant professor of theology. “They sing songs, sometimes children get candy and it’s really a general remembrance of Martin, especially to remember the story of Martin and his cloak,” says Cooper.

Martin was a Roman soldier in the fourth century. The story goes that one day Martin came upon a beggar who was barely clothed.  Without hesitation, Martin removed his own cloak and used his sword to slice it in two pieces, covering the beggar in protection from the bitter cold. Later that night in a dream or vision, Martin was visited by Jesus.

The story of Saint Martin of Tours is an important one for the faith, explains Cooper. There is a reason this story has stood the test of time, he says. Martin’s act wasn’t just a charitable act, it was that he was willing to do something that would make him appear foolish to all that saw him because it was the right thing to do. “Cutting his cloak in half would be akin to someone today cutting their jacket in half and walking around with half a jacket on,” he explains.

Martin serves as an example of good Christian behavior. Before Martin, saints were almost synonymous with martyrs, and though the Christian faith was still very unpopular during Martin’s time, attitudes had begun to change. Martin’s actions represented a new paradigm for what would be considered saintly.

Katelynn Gulley is part of the seventh cohort of Benedictine Scholars, and she has been hard at work with the other scholars to plan the procession. She is excited to share Martin’s story with other students and the public because she sees his story as a model for herself and others. 

Saint Martin's University Veterans Day
Part of the Saint Martin’s Abbey art collection is this stained glass piece by Simon Kogan depicting Saint Martin clothing the beggar with his cloak. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

“Our education at Saint Martin’s isn’t just about improving yourself, it’s about improving yourself with an intent to help others,” says Gulley. “We are always trying to consider how our vocation or our passion can help the larger world at this moment and Martin’s story is integral to that. He saw a need in the world and fulfilled it immediately and without question, and that embodies the values that we practice and believe in on campus.”

Cooper and Gulley both hope that the lantern procession will become a new annual tradition for the community. 

The Saint Martin’s University Veterans Day Celebration takes place on Friday, November 8 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., in the event space located on the third floor of Cebula Hall. Veterans and current military members are invited to join the University Community. Parking for the event will be Lot N and O.

The Saint Martin Lantern Procession will occur after evening prayer on November 8 and will begin at the Abbey Church. The reading of Saint Martin’s story will begin at 8:00 p.m. with the lantern procession to follow. The public is invited to bring their own lanterns and join in the procession or simply observe.


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