Honoring Saint Martin’s Military and Veteran Community

Saint Martin’s University does more than simply provide outreach, education, and support to contemporary veterans. Members of the Abbey have a long history of military service as well, during and after times of war.

Saint Martins University veterans autumn on campus
For more than 100 years, the Saint Martin’s school and Abbey have welcomed soldiers, veterans, and their families. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

Saint Martin’s University and Abbey in Lacey have stood for more than 100 years. As such, soldiers and military families have climbed the rugged stairs to Old Main for decades. Even some Abbey members took time out from teaching to become military chaplains during seasons of conflict.

The late Father John C. Scott wrote a history of Saint Martin’s, “This Place Called Saint Martin’s, 1895 – 1995,” and documented some of the school’s wartime experiences. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he recalls how “many of our alumni and older students quickly rallied to the flag for national service.”

As with many things, Saint Martin’s was quietly cutting-edge. In 1939 they banded together with other schools to form a rudimentary flight school. Father Scott reports that, “Female and male applicants were required to be accepted on an equal basis into that program but SMC [Saint Martin’s College] was not coeducational. Father Gerald Desmond, as dean of the College, however, prevailed upon Abbot Lambert to allow women to participate in the summer trial program.”

The program was a success, though as it grew nationwide, the requirement for women applicants was eventually dropped. But, says Scott, “Those few female students enrolled in SMC’s aviation courses in the summer of 1939 might technically claim to be our College’s first coeds. Likewise, Gladys Buroker, who was an experienced pilot as well as a patient and successful teacher of aviation skills, might claim for herself the distinction of being SMC’s pioneer female instructor.”

Saint Martins University veterans Fr Jerome Toner
During times of war, several Abbey members signed on to be chaplains in the military. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

During the years of World War II, several priests from the Abbey served as military chaplains. “Our monk chaplains by and large enjoyed their work,” reports Scott, “were proud of their service to God and country, and generally got along well with non-Catholic chaplains and soldiers.” These include Father Leo Hansen who worked in military hospitals stateside, Father Alcuin Lawrence who spent more than two years as an Army chaplain, and Father Jerome Toner who was sent to France in 1945. Father Robert Whippel served at the Presidio in San Francisco while Father Marcel Berthon served in military hospitals at home and abroad.

Brother Mark Bonneville explains that military service still continues today. “One monk, now deceased, Br. Lawrence Vogel, served as a communications officer in the Army. Another monk, who is currently a leader in our community, Br. Nicolaus Wilson, was a Marine.”

In the military, “we always tried to hold ourselves to a higher standard, to act with integrity and virtue,” explains Br. Nicolaus. “The members of the US armed forces by and large see themselves as a force for good, warriors who fight for truth, justice, freedom, apple pie. I think this mentality diffuses some of the tension that one might initially think when comparing a monk to a Marine.

“The USMC is a tight-knit community with a strong moral compass dedicated to individual and collective growth in the perfection of their art. Marines strive to be the best warriors in fighting skill but also strive to have a strong moral center,” Br. Nicolaus said. “The life of a monk similarly exists in the context of a monastic community, which is also tightly knit, whose members strive together to achieve growth toward perfection in a slightly different art: not being the greatest warrior but being the greatest Christian. We do this individually and collectively, guided by a strong hierarchical structure. We also exercise discipline and growth in virtue so that we can achieve our goals of human flourishing and building the kingdom of God, a kingdom of freedom and liberty of the highest kind.”

Saint Martins University veterans Br Nicolaus
Some members of the Abbey, like former Marine Corps soldier Brother Nicolaus, come from an active military background. Photo courtesy: Saint Martin’s University

“In addition to those in Fr. John’s history, there are others I can recall,” says Abbot Neal Roth. “Br. Joseph Crowley and Br. Charles Crowley were in the Navy; Br. Bernard Anderson was in the Navy; Br. Anthony Macke was in the Army; Br. Aelred Woodard was in the Army; Fr. Peter Tynan was in the Air Force; and Fr. Christopher Abair served in the Army.”

In recent years, growth at Saint Martin’s has included outreach to the greater veteran community. To make education easier, Saint Martin’s offers programs on-site at the nearby Joint-Base Lewis-McChord. These include their post-baccalaureate teaching certificate, Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA) program, undergraduate computer science, accounting, business administration, psychology, criminal justice, and elementary or special education degrees. Also available at JBLM is access to the Master in Teaching (MIT) and Master of Education (MED) career path.

The school’s namesake, Saint Martin of Tours, was a soldier who later became the patron saint of soldiers. The monastic life may seem at odds with military service, but both share the end goal of bettering the lives of those around us. Visit Saint Martin’s and you’ll truly experience the Benedictine spirit of welcome.

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