Campus honored CSU senior with memorial service
Leigha Martinelli loved to write and perform on stage. She loved her family and her dog, Mylo. Most of all, Leigha loved sharing her testimony of faith with family, friends and complete strangers.
Fellow Charleston Southern University senior communication studies major Anna Menendez tutored Martinelli last semester and shared her experience meeting Leigha for the first time.
“Leigha was a girl I got to know for an hour. One hour. Sixty minutes. It’s an hour that is impossible to forget. No one affected me in such a short time the way Leigha did. She was incredibly open with her battle against cancer and told a story of such a powerful and unshakeable faith in the face of unthinkable adversity. It was a story that would make any doubter, and any skeptic, into a faithful and bursting believer.”
Menendez said the passion that Martinelli had was emotional, hard, beautiful and pure. “She truly was a light. I was able to see those flames of passion that burn so brightly in a world of darkness, extinguish any ounce of doubt or question about the existence of God.”
Martinelli, 24, was from Burlington, North Carolina, and passed away in North Charleston on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. A senior communication studies major at Charleston Southern University with a minor in Christian leadership, Martinelli was active in her church and theatre on campus. She survived neuroblastoma as a child and was an inspirational speaker at cancer awareness events such as Relay for Life, Duke’s Children’s Hospital telethon and Christian Youth National Conference.
The CSU campus community celebrated the life of Martinelli on Wednesday with a memorial service. Students sang in worship to God, professors shared memories and pastors provided encouragement.
“Life is short. It doesn’t matter how long you live. The thing about Leigha is she lived her life well. Hers was a life of faith, hers was a life of action, of difficulty and struggle,” CSU President Dondi Costin said. “Because of the faith that she had and how her parents raised her, she was a woman of God.”
Dr. Costin shared verses from Ecclesiastes 3. “God doesn’t paint a rosy picture. He always tells the truth and tells it like it is. Life is short. Death is sure. Judgement is certain. But God is sovereign. Leigha understood those facts. She knew without a doubt that God was her salvation through Christ alone.”
Martinelli’s pastor and CSU professor of Christian studies Dr. Peter Beck announced his student’s passing with his congregation on Sunday. “I heard gasps,” he said of when his church heard the news for the first time. “She brought them such joy. Leigha understood grace was amazing. If we can learn any lesson, too often we are not amazed by grace. Let’s learn this while we still have breath.”
CSU student SarahGrace Farris, read a poem that Martinelli wrote just a few weeks ago:
“You live and you learn” they say and that’s true.
But why do we have to experience it before the lesson follows through?
I’m not the first to ask or wonder why?
Why does it take so many deaths and miracles for us to believe and really start to try?
Why is there light all around us but we manage to find our way to the dark?
Why do we focus on the fire instead of managing the spark?
We seek love in certain ways and sometimes envy when others find it,
But when it comes to ourselves we surely do not mind it,
There is only ONE love that is pure and never lets us down,
There is only ONE love that fulfills us and can turn our life around,
But we are selfish on this earth when we “thought” we can do this alone,
We are selfish to think in this life to think “we’re on our own”,
We give ourselves too much credit. when we’re really all in this together,
This world is all about labels and answering “who did it better?”,
The answer isn’t within ourselves or what we have done,
Our selfish desires focus on our own glory and what we overcome,
A Man who has lived his whole life with persecution and no sin,
A Man who sacrificed his life so ours can start to begin,
A Man who is just, kind, faithful and loving to all,
A Man who we are created to be like but yet in comparison will always fall,
A Man who is judged and denied over by the world which He created,
A Man who still cares for those whose faith has even faded,
A Man who gives us true and ultimate salvation,
A Man who is still tending and guiding all his creation,
A Man who has been through everything and has even conquered death,
A Man who perseveres through it all and our standard are still not met??
Martinelli’s advisor and CSU theatre professor Thomas Keating said that Martinelli was a bright light. “Imagine one or two small but powerful things. For me, I think of a spark plug or maybe a fire hydrant. Maybe even the bright light of a cell phone at night. Crazy to think that something so small can exude so much power. That’s Leigha.”
Campus minister Jon Davis closed the memorial service with encouragement from Revelation 1. “What does Leigha see? She sees the glorified Jesus. What does she feel? Absolute complete love and knowledge. What does she know? She knows that death is no longer master but a servant. Leigha knows and feels and sees the presence of God.”
Martinelli’s funeral is Saturday, Jan. 19 at noon at Marks Church in Burlington, North Carolina. Memorials may be made to the Duke Children’s Hospital.