“Lift Thine Eyes to the Mountains”

One of the three kneelers designed by Tess Parrish, mother of alumna Susan Parrish Carter ’69.

One of the three kneelers designed by Tess Parrish, mother of alumna Susan Parrish Carter ’69.

During The White Mountain School’s 2019 Alumnae/i Weekend on Saturday, Oct. 19, the Class of 1969—who graduated from the School when it was still St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains— celebrated their milestone 50th Reunion. One alumna, Susan Parrish Carter ’69, along with her husband, Bill, visited the School, with a keen interest in seeing the lovely altar kneeling cushions, colloquially called “kneelers,” that Susan’s mother, Tess Parrish, had designed and needlepointed in gratitude for the financial aid that Susan and her sisters received as students. Donations from alumnae/i and friends to White Mountain have, among other things, provided scholarship support to students like Susan and her sisters for generations, and continue to support scholarship support for current students.

“It was a pleasure to see the School. All the changes are really wonderful and I am happy that the School has so much to offer its students,” said Susan. “With adolescence being what it is, being a student is rarely considered a high-point. Looking back now—50 years is a pretty good distance for reflection—much of the core of St. Mary’s remained with us alumnae and has produced some pretty interesting individuals.”

According to Susan, the three kneelers that her mother designed, which now are housed in White Mountain’s Gilbert R. Tanis Oratory, were originally made for the St. Mary’s-in-the- Mountains chapel. Ironically, the chapel was one of the few rooms at St. Mary’s that did not have a view. The soul of St. Mary’s grew from its motto “Levavi oculos in montes” (“Lift thine eyes to the mountains,” Psalm 121), annually confirmed by the graduating seniors, singing Mendelssohn’s composition a cappella, as they left St. Mary’s to their futures and the School to the following classes. “I’m sure most, if not all, the seniors paid little attention to the lyrics, but all of us remember the mountains,” noted Susan. “Although St. Mary’s was remote, a little island on the rim of the valley, it made its impression on us.”

Tess Parrish demonstrating bobbin-lace for a local Textile Day in Yarmouth, Maine.

Tess Parrish demonstrating bobbin-lace for a local Textile Day in Yarmouth, Maine.

Tess Parrish was a musician, an expert in historic ecclesiastical embroideries, a needlework designer, and she spearheaded the Kneeler Project at St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Tess was grateful to St. Mary’s and the opportunities that it offered her daughters, as well as the generosity of the School and the Diocese of New Hampshire for scholarship support. She was struck by the combination of the view of the mountains surrounding St. Mary’s and the aptness of the School’s motto. St. Mary’s chapel was located in the then-new Main Building (McLane) and was one of the last rooms to be completed. As a designer who preferred to create useful pieces through her needlework, she asked the Rev. William Dearman and Headmaster John McIlwaine if she could show her appreciation to St. Mary’s with kneelers for the chapel.

From 1965 through 1966, each time Tess visited the School to pick up or drop off Susan, she reflected on the words of the School motto to develop her design and bring the mountains into the chapel. An expert in incorporating texture and color in her needlework, Tess’ design of the St. Mary’s kneelers utilized vibrant colors and several stitching techniques to render a simplified depiction of the mountains. The kneelers were completed in 1966 or 1967 and today, fifty years after the graduation of her first daughter, the kneelers are still softly reminding the White Mountain community to “lift thine eyes to the mountains.”The kneelers remain in pristine condition and are a powerful testament to the Parrish family’s appreciation of St. Mary’s and White Mountain. We want to thank them for generously sharing them with the School.

Tess recently celebrated her 90th birthday. She lives independently, volunteers at her local library, translates technical manuals on historic bobbin lace, tutors French, and continues to teach design and needlework techniques.

One thought on ““Lift Thine Eyes to the Mountains”

  1. Barbara M. SIRNA

    This is a lovely story… I am a SMS alumna, but had never seen the kneelers before a visit in late September.
    I did notice that 50 years later the backs need to be refurbished. Maybe a chance for a nice gift from the class of her first daughter?

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