Dr. Margaret Norris with newest member of St A's family at Fall Retreat- 2017.
Dr. Margaret Norris joined St. Augustine's shorty after she moved to Nashville in 1957. In the 1960's, she worked as a Staff Physician at the Vanderbilt Student Health Clinic, then began a 3 year residency in Psychiatry and went into private practice. Eventually she began working as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the V.A., retiring in 1998. She serves as an Emeritus member of the St. Augustine's Advisory Board.
Dr. Margaret Norris prepared these notes in the spring of 1994 in advance of Becca Stevens’ first board meeting as chaplain of St. Augustine’s. The meeting ran long, and Margaret didn’t have a chance to share the history of St. Augustine’s with the board. She put her notes in a file and brought them out again in June 2017. Margaret’s history comes via Phillip Davidson and John Hatcher.
A History of St. Augustine’s Chapel, 1947-present
St. Augustine’s Chapel has been a wonderful place for students and Nashvillians to gather for over 60 years. At the end of WWII, three Nashville Episcopal churches—Christ Church Cathedral, St. Ann’s, and Church of the Advent—accepted the responsibility of working with students from Vanderbilt, Peabody, and Ward Belmont College for Women. With some financial help from the diocese and from the national church, they hired the first chaplain, The Reverend James Stirling. Their budget that year was $5600. Services for students were held at the three campuses. The program grew so rapidly that it was soon apparent that it needed a place of its own, and in 1947 the diocese purchased a stucco house in the middle of campus, which was called Canterbury House. At this time 24th Avenue was filled with older homes that were often used for faculty housing, sorority houses, and dormitories.
In 1955, the student vestry at Canterbury House petitioned then Bishop Barth for a new chapel. The chapel, or A-frame as its currently known, was called St. Augustine’s and was completed in 1958. (Margaret Norris joined the chapel in 1958 the year after she and her young family moved to Nashville from New Jersey.) The Reverend Stanley Johnston served as the first chaplain in the new building. He and his young family lived in the adjoining apartment. He left to serve as the chaplain at Penn State, as well as the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team. Reverend Stanley Johnson paid a visit two or three years after leaving [which would have been around 1964] when the Penn State women’s basketball team was playing Vanderbilt.
The Reverend Robert Wilcox assumed duties as chaplain in 1961. He and his somewhat older family found living in the small apartment difficult and they moved into a larger home purchased by the diocese. During the 1960s, the area changed dramatically. Most of the old homes were torn down to make way for sorority and fraternity houses. In 1968, Father Wilcox retired to due ill health. The baptismal font at St. Augustine’s was dedicated to his memory upon his death.
The next chaplain, the Reverend Robert Cooper, arrived in 1968. He took down the altar rail, brought out the altar, and relocated the choir from the front of the church to the back. In 1970, he left to teach at Nashotah House (an Episcopal seminary).
The Reverend John Hatcher came in 1971 and stayed until 1987. He and his family tried moving back into the apartment in the back of the chapel but it proved too noisy for comfort, and the diocese purchased another rectory in 1985. During this time, the chapel developed an excellent music program with Bruce Smedley as choir director. In 1980, Father Hatcher started a drama program, with shoes such as The Fantasticks, Man of La Mancha, and West Side Story.
We were fortunate in obtaining the services of the Reverend Lane Denson after Father Hatcher left in 1987. Father Denson kept us going until the Reverend Henry Myers arrived. Father Myers stayed with us until he retired in 1993, and Father Denson stepped back in to lead the chapel until Reverend Rebecca Stevens assumed the position of chaplain in spring 1994. I have been fortunate in having known all the chaplains since 1958, and I believe each has contributed something special to this chapel. –Dr. Margaret Norris