Day by Day: Words Etched in Our Hearts

From its origins in Calvary Episcopal Church to the incredible story of Sister Constance and her companions, St. Mary’s is deeply rooted in its Episcopal identity. As an Episcopal school, St. Mary’s is known for its inclusive approach to education. We are committed to respecting all faiths and ensuring each girl feels valued. One of the visible markers of our Episcopal identity is Chapel. Chapel services have been a regular practice since St. Mary’s was led by Sisters of the Order of St. Mary. Girls in Early Childhood and Lower School attend Chapel once a week, and Middle and Upper School students attend Chapel daily. Amid the busy schedules of students, faculty, and guests, Chapel allows our community to pause and come together to sing, pray, and reflect.

By Lucy Nassif ’22

Photo by Cindy McMillion: Reverend Hester Shipp Mathes ’92 currently serves as the Senior Associate Rector at Church of the Holy Communion. Mathes joined Church of Holy Communion in 2014 as Curate. Beginning in April 2022, she will serve as the priest of Church of the Holy Trinity and the Memphis campus of St. George’s Independent School.

 

The rain was pitter-pattering on the pavement outside on a cold January afternoon when I found myself kneeling in a cramped closet at the back of the library—the St. Mary’s archives. I already sifted through 30-year-old graduation photo albums and 60-year-old The Tatler articles when I stumbled upon a program made for a special Chapel event in 1995. As I scanned the 27-year-old sheet of paper for any information relevant to my article, nothing initially stood out as particularly remarkable. But as I slid the sheet back into its folder, I caught a glimpse of these lyrics:

“Day by day, dear Lord, of thee three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

I cannot remember a day in St. Mary’s Chapel when we did not conclude the service by singing “Day by Day.” I then realized why this sheet of paper was different from the other things I had found in the archives—it was familiar.

Every morning, Assistant Chaplain Rainey Ray Segars ’05 commences the service by asking students to take a moment to notice our breath. She reminds us that in Chapel, we have no control over our test scores or mid-quarter grades; we must allow ourselves to settle into the rhythm of the present moment. In this way, Chapel is a moment of rest for students, or, as Reverend Hester Shipp Mathes ’92 calls it, Sabbath time.

“God asks us to observe the Sabbath because it is a reminder that we are worthy because we are the children of God, not because of what we produce and achieve,” she explained.

“So much of school is centered around what we are producing. To have the daily reminder that ‘I can sit here and be, and that in itself is enough’ is daily Sabbath.”

In this sense, the tradition of Chapel surpasses the history of St. Mary’s, even the history of the Anglican Church; Sabbath-keeping is an ancient tradition.

Reverend Mathes believes that Chapel is St. Mary’s daily opportunity to ground ourselves in a “larger arc and wisdom of spiritual connection.” Our ancestors and our successors have and will walk through this world in different ways, but “the common thread running through our journeys is the intentional daily practice of Sabbath,” she said.

Chapel is not only our consistent reminder but also our opportunity to practice holding, breathing, and reveling in God’s creation, moment by moment, breath by breath. As the words of this prayer have been etched into the hearts of generations of students, St. Mary’s tradition of Chapel will continue to offer our community the gift of spiritual nourishment “Day by Day.”

Lucy Nassif ’22 attended St. Mary’s since pre-kindergarten. Her favorite hymn is number 456: “O Love of God, how strong and true.”


175 Years of St. Mary's

This story is part of our 175 Years of St. Mary's series. For 175 years, the mission of St. Mary’s Episcopal School has been to provide a superior educational experience for girls. Our robust academics, Episcopal identity, and rich traditions create an environment where girls flourish as students, athletes, creators, performers, and more. Most importantly, at St. Mary’s, integrity, compassion, and confidence are the norm for our girls. From Chapel to the PE class, alumnae reflect on the experiences and traditions that have made St. Mary’s a special place for girls to learn and thrive for 175 years. Click below to read the other stories in the series.

  • All-School
  • Alumnae

Additional Images

Lucy Nassif ’22

Female student bows her head while sitting in a pew with other students at an Episcopal school in Memphis, TN