Annual tree lighting ceremony honors Brother Leo Jones

On Nov. 29, the annual tree lighting ceremony occurred in front of North Hall. This event not only celebrated the start of the holiday season for the community but also honored Brother Leo Jones FSC, who passed away last year on Dec. 1.

“The Christmas tree lighting has been a Lewis University tradition for many years, about two decades now,” said Associate Director of Mission and Identity Margaret Martinez. “This year is special in the sense that it’s not just going to be the annual Christmas tree lighting, but we’re pairing it with a dedication ceremony.”

During the ceremony, speakers announced that Lewis is designating the circular, brick paver plaza in front of the North Hall Student Residence as the “Brother Leo Circle” in honor of Jones.

“What we decided to do in his honor was to name that brick circle around North Hall and where the big tree is, that’s where we do the Christmas tree lighting. We decided to name that after Brother Leo, so it was formally dedicated as Brother Leo Circle, so that’s what’s pretty special about this year’s Christmas tree lighting.”

This space had special meaning to Jones and it represented all that was important to him, like bringing people together in a spirit of joyous celebration during the holidays to sing, pray and enjoy each other’s company. Due to complications related to COVID-19, Jones passed away last year at the age of 80. 

According to an article about him, published by Vice President for Mission Kurt Schackmuth, it was a shock felt within the Brothers’ community on campus and across the university. It goes on to say that his passing was especially difficult for many of the international students and alumni who had come to know him over the years, as an extended part of their families.

“Brother Leo has always organized the Christmas tree lighting because he loved everything about the holidays, like bringing people together to celebrate the holidays,” said Martinez. At the beginning of the event, accounting instructor Iyad Rock gave brief remarks about his own memories of Jones after Martinez welcomed all attendees.

“We did the dedication part first, so Iyad Rock, one of our instructors in the College of Business, gave remarks, very brief ones about his memories of Brother Leo because it was obviously too cold outside,” said Martinez. 

After that, Jones’ friend, Brother Phillip Johnson, led the portion of the ceremony where they unveiled a plaque that sits in front of the tree. He read the citation that was engraved on the plaque after students helped him unveil it.

“Their plaque was permanently displayed in the newly dedicated Brother Leo Circle,” said Martinez. “Then, Father Dennis Lewandowski, who is the University Chaplain, blessed the space.”

After that, President David Livingston and the same students who helped unveil the plaque, also helped Livingston light the Christmas tree. After the tree was officially lit, everyone went inside the D’Arcy Great Room for some light refreshments and the chamber choir performed in the St. Alberta Chapel.

Everyone was encouraged to attend because it’s a university tradition that the school hasn’t been able to have since 2019 due to COVID-19.  Along with it being in-person, it was also live-streamed for those who couldn’t attend it.

Everyone was also encouraged to attend it because it’s a joyous way to start out the holiday season here on campus, and it’s an uplifting activity that everybody seems to enjoy.

“A lot of people come to this because Christmas makes people happy,” said Martinez. “Something that Brother Leo enjoyed is that holiday spirit that kind of lives in all of us.”

Another reason Martinez encouraged others to attend is because the ceremony brought the community together to honor and celebrate Jones.

“The Christmas tree lighting is a way to celebrate together as a community,” said Martinez. “The tradition that we’re actually getting to have again and again is uplifting, and gets people together on campus to celebrate the beginning of the holidays.”

Photo Credit: Katelyn Leano

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