South Sound monks trace roots back to 1891


The monks of Saint Martin’s Abbey have been in the South Sound since 1891. Here are some highlights of their history:

July 16, 1891: Father William Eversmann, 42, of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, arrives by train to be pastor of the newly established Holy Rosary in Tacoma — today, the parish is at 424 S. 30th St., Tacoma. German-speaking pioneers raise money to buy the land and build the Roman Catholic Church. With the bishop’s approval, they write Saint John’s abbot and ask him to send a German-speaking Benedictine monk to be their pastor.

September 1891: Eversmann opens a school at Holy Rosary, and 35 students attend. Construction on a parochial school building begins in December.

April 21, 1894: A 571-acre tract in an area known as Woodland (now Lacey) is bought at auction for a college and monastery. Price: $6,920.

Sept. 11, 1895: Saint Martin’s College opens as a school for boys. Its initial offerings are comparable to current high school and community college level curricula. For many weeks, Angus McDonald of Shelton is the school’s first and only student. By February 1896, the school has six students.

May 1904: Three Benedictine nuns from Saint Gertrude’s Convent in Cottonwood, Idaho, arrive to run Saint Martin’s kitchen. The nuns also do sewing for students and monks.

1913: The first wing of what is now called Old Main, the university’s primary classroom and administrative building, is completed.

April 18, 1914: Saint Martin’s becomes an abbey independent from Saint John’s. It elects its first abbot, Father Oswald Baran, about a month later.

1922: KGY Radio begins broadcasting on campus. It’s launched by Father Sebastian Ruth, whose shortwave radio hobby turned into a part-time licensed broadcasting station. The radio license is sold about a decade later. The station still broadcasts under its original call letters.

1923: Construction is completed on Old Main.

1940: Saint Martin’s offers baccalaureate degrees.

1946: Saint Martin’s offers agriculture classes for credit. The college has a well-established farm, and the monks produce most of the food for the campus.

Nov. 2, 1946: Federal agents pick up Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr., aka “The Great Imposter.” A deserter from the Navy and Army, he arrived at Saint Martin’s about four months earlier, claiming he was a doctor and a candidate for the monastery.

April 28, 1958: The Benedictine Sisters of Saint Gertrude’s Convent send a letter announcing they will end their agreement to provide culinary and sewing departments at Saint Martin’s by Aug. 1, 1960. The Saint Martin’s nuns are reassigned to hospitals and schools closer to their mother house.

1965: Saint Martin’s officially becomes coed. Some say it had been secretly coed because several women took night and summer session courses at the college, or by exception, in the previous decade.

1970: Saint Martin’s Abbey Church is completed.

1972: The college offers extension programs at Fort Lewis Army Post and McChord Air Force Base.

Oct. 16, 1973: After years of operating in the red and seeing enrollment decline, Saint Martin’s High School is closed effective June 30, 1974, on a 35-15 vote by the abbey.

January 1980: John D. Ishii, a Saint Martin’s high school and college alumnus, is the first layperson to be named president and lead the college. That year, Saint Martin’s also begins offering graduate degrees.

1993: Father Neal Roth is elected abbot, a title he retains today.

2005: Saint Martin’s College changes its name to Saint Martin’s University.

Sources: Saint Martin’s Abbey, Saint Martin’s University, “This Place Called Saint Martin’s 1895-1995” by Father John C. Scott.