The Saint Mary’s School Song Book of 1915 and 1921 feature more than a dozen school songs, class songs, an alma mater adapted to the tune Believe me if All These Endearing Young Charms, and a since forgotten St. Mary’s Hymn with lyrics written by Margaret Cruikshank for the Class of 2013. Yet only two official works have stood the test of time – Hail, Saint Mary’s, our school song, and The School Hymn, We Build Our School on Thee.
For many years, memorizing the lyrics to the school songs was required to pass the handbook test during orientation. In earlier years, the hope was expresses to learn them by commencement. The Belles student newspaper reported in the October 15, 1937, edition that, “With Mr. Jones’ help and Student Body President Mary Louise Riddick’s encouragement, Saint Mary’s girls are going to know their school songs before commencement.”
Hail, Saint Mary’s
Hail, Saint Mary’s - the school song known, loved, and sung with zest by generations of Saint Mary’s girls to this day - was adapted in 1899 from music by Margaret Mason Young. Since that time, all-school assemblies have started joyfully with the spirited a Capella singing of and clapping to the famous lyrics, “In a Grove of stately oak trees, where the sunlight lies, stands Saint Mary’s true and noble ‘neath the Southern Skies...Hail Saint Mary’s alma mater, all hail to Thee.”
Beyond campus throughout school history, the song became well-associated with Saint Mary’s, as evidenced by the N.C. State University pep band playing the tune in tribute to our students in the crowd at the 1923 football game versus the UNC Tar Heels.
We Build Our School on Thee
In 1942, for the school’s 100th anniversary, longtime music department chair Russell Broughton closed his Centennial Cantata, performed at an alumnae vesper service on May 17, with the hymn, We Build Our School on Thee, with music composed by Broughton and lyrics written in 1908 by Sebastian W. Meyer. Broughton created a Saint Mary’s masterwork and tradition treasured by students for generations to come. The hymn was the processional for the centennial anniversary commencement held in the Chapel May 19, 1942, and was quickly adopted as the official School Hymn.
Today, the School Hymn is sung at the conclusion of chapel services, convocations, commencement, and other dedicated events. Saint Mary’s tradition holds that everyone joins together arm in arm to sway while singing the School Hymn.
Beyond the official occasions at which the two songs are vocalized, students are often inspired to sing them on the spur of the moment during special Saint Mary’s times. One memorable example, among so many, happened on a warm spring night in May 2023. Members of the Class of 2023 were enjoying an evening together exploring secret and hidden nooks, attics, underground tunnels, and alcoves on campus and ended the night on the Sun Porch high atop Smedes Hall. As they were taking in the spectacular views of the Raleigh skyline and the Grove from on high, the feelings of friendship and their shared love of Saint Mary’s were palpable. In an unscripted moment that capped off a magical night, the group spontaneously joined arms and began singing The School Hymn quickly followed by Hail, Saint Mary’s.
Mary Virginia Swain ’77C
School Historian and Author in Residence
Stay tuned for more history nuggets uncovered and confirmed in my research for an upcoming book chronicling the history of Saint Mary’s from 1842-2024.
Hail, Saint Mary's
In a grove of stately oak trees,
Where the sunlight lies,
Stands Saint Mary's true and noble
'Neath the Southern skies.
Chorus: Far and wide, Oh sound her praises,
Chorus full and free
Hail, Saint Mary's, Alma Mater
Hail, all hail to thee!
Well, we love the little Chapel
Ever hold it dear;
Hear the echoes of the music
Rising soft and clear.
There the ivy and the roses
Climb the old stone wall;
There the sweet enticing bird notes
Sound their magic call.
There the bonds of friendship strengthen
As her beauties charm;
We draw close to Alma Mater,
Trust her guiding arm.
School Hymn: We Build Our School on Thee
We build our school on Thee, 0 Lord;
To Thee we bring our common need;
The loving heart, the helpful word,
The tender thought, the kindly deed.
We work together in Thy sight,
We live together in Thy love;
Guide Thou our falt'ring steps aright,
And lift our thoughts to heaven above.
Hold Thou each hand to keep it just,
Touch Thou our lips and make them pure;
If Thou art with us, Lord, we must
Be faithful friends and comrades sure.
We change, but Thou art still the same,
The same good Master, Teacher, Friend;
We change; but Lord, we bear Thy Name,
To journey with it to the end. AMEN.
Sebastian W. Meyer, 1908 (words)
Russell Broughton (music)