The towering pine tree stood on the CSB campus mall, an unlit silhouette against the darkening sky. Soon pockets of staff began to gather, and students made their way in large groups from their residence halls.
And so began the inaugural "Christmas at Saint Ben's."
The event took place Tuesday, Nov. 27, and drew more than 300 CSB and SJU students, faculty and staff to observe the lighting of the 35-foot tree. It was donated by Joseph Styles, a St. Joseph dentist and owner of River Bluff Tree Farm, and adorned with 3,200 lights.
Organizers hope the tree lighting will become an annual event.
"It was very exciting to be the first to take part in a tradition that could last for years to come," said Danielle Quintana, a sophomore from Sandy, Utah.
In welcoming remarks, Mary Geller, vice president for student development at CSB, explained the college's motto, "Sic luceat lux vestra," meaning "let your light shine." As she spoke, a representative from each class at CSB made her way to the platform with a lit torch - symbolic of the theme of light.
Crowd members also were given tea lights to hold, and the CSB women's choir led the group in singing a few Christmas carols. S. Sharon Nohner, director of CSB Campus Ministry, blessed the tree, and CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger flipped a switch, instantly illuminating the dark sky.
"I'm so glad that I was able to be a part of this new Christmas tradition at CSB," said Julie Bode, a senior from New Ulm, Minn. "As a senior, it was amazing to come together to celebrate the beginning of a new holiday custom with my fellow Bennies. Hopefully my life after graduation will shine just as brightly and vividly as it did during my four years here."
After the ceremony, students were invited to the Benedicta Arts Center for refreshments, photos with holiday backdrops and music provided by DYNAMIX, a CSB student a cappella group.
"My friend and I loved it," said Sophia Nolan, a senior from Plymouth, Minn. "We felt that Christmas time officially felt close because of how cozy it made the campus feel."