Parish History:William Greenough Thaye

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WILLIAM GREENOUGH THAYER, son of Robert H. and Hannah F. (Appleton) Thayer, was born 24 December 1863 in New Brighton, Staten Island, New York. His father was a hardware merchant and ship chandler. He was fitted for college at Orange Classical Institute in Orange, New Jersey. He was graduated from Amherst College in 1885 with a B.A. degree. He commenced his studies for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1885-1886, taught at Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts from 1886-1887, then returned to Union Theological Seminary from 1887-1888. He was awarded an M.A. degree from Amherst College in 1888. He attended Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts from 1888-1889 and received a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) degree. He was ordained a deacon in June 1889 by the Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, Bishop of the Diocese of New York, and a priest in May 1890 by the Rt. Rev. Benjamin Henry Paddock, Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts.

He returned to Groton School as an English teacher in the fall of 1889. The Rev. Dr. Endicott Peabody, headmaster at Groton School, also assigned him to begin the work of founding an Episcopal mission in the nearby town of Ayer, Massachusetts. The first service was held in the lower town hall on Sunday evening, 20 October 1889. The evening services continued in the town hall for a little more than three years. On 29 August 1892, ground was broken for a new church building, built of grey granite with a shingle roof, to be known as St. Andrew's Episcopal Church. Fifty years later, Mrs. Thayer wrote, "How well I remember our joy and excitement over every stone that went into it." The Rev. William G. Thayer was soon after appointed Minister and on Christmas Day 1892, the first service was held in the new church. He was married to Violet Otis, daughter of William C. and Margaret (Sigourney) Otis of Boston, 1 June 1891 in Boston. They had seven children.

It would be impossible to relate all that Rev. Thayer accomplished during his five years at St. Andrew's, as a result of his hard work and untiring devotion. In July 1894, he was elected headmaster of St. Mark's School, an Episcopal secondary school in Southborough, Massachusetts. On 8 August 1894, it was with the deepest regret that the parish listened to his last sermon, realizing that they were parting with a real friend and faithful leader. Happy and valuable memories remained with those who were privileged to associate with him. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is a living memorial to his Christian service.

After leaving Groton School and St. Andrew's Church, Rev. Thayer became both headmaster of St. Mark's School and also rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, in Southborough, positions he held until his retirement in September 1930. He became one of the principal figures in private education in the United States. In The Education of the Modern Boy, which he authored together with the headmasters of five other New England private secondary schools in 1925, he provided an insight into his philosophy while headmaster at St. Mark's School:
In a democracy, the most dangerous of all classes is the idle class, and no community can advance in well being if the unemployed forms a considerable part of its population. For this reason, the private school must be within the reasonable reach of moderate and even meagre means, lest there be segregation of a leisure class. The defenders of the private school will have little standing ground unless they can rid the schools of even the suspicion of exclusiveness. To justify the endowment of private schools, their advocates must show that they are doing something that the public schools cannot do. To heap up endowments for schools which at best merely parallel the schools supported by the State would be a misappropriation of funds that should be turned toward the bettering of the schools within the reach of all.
In 1906, he was awarded an honorary M.A. degree by Columbia University. In 1907, he was awarded an honorary D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) degree by Amherst College, at the same time he was also made an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. He served as president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Massachusetts from 1912-1916 and as a member of the National Board on Religious Education from 1919-1930.

The Rev. Dr. William Greenough Thayer died 27 November 1934 at his home in Boston. Funeral services were held at St. Mark's School Chapel in Southborough, Massachusetts; the Rt. Rev. William Lawrence, Bishop Emeritus of Massachusetts officiated, assisted by the Rt. Rev. Henry Knox Sherrill, Bishop of Massachusetts. The services were attended by the presidents of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia Universities, as well as Amherst, Williams, and Trinity Colleges; the headmasters of Groton, St. Paul's, Andover, Exeter, Milton, and Middlesex Schools; numerous clergy and St. Mark's alumni. He is buried with his wife in the Southborough Rural Cemetery (Section 1B, Lot H) under a headstone that bears the inscription, "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God."

In a memorial to him, his former mentor the Rev. Dr. Endicott Peabody, wrote in The Church Militant in December 1934, "He would certainly have done yeoman service to the Church as a parish priest. During the early years of his ministry this was evident in his care of St. Andrew's parish in Ayer, where he is still remembered with constant affection; and all through his life he ministered to people of all ages, as well as to boys."
Sources:
1. Bennett, Mrs. Frank Silas History of St. Andrew's Church: Ayer, Groton, Forge Village 1892-1942 (Ayer, Massachusetts: St. Andrew's Church, 1944), 7-9.
2. Benson, Albert F. History of St. Mark's School (Southborough, Massachusetts: St. Mark's School Alumni Association, 1925), 138.
3. Fish, G. Stowe Stowe's Clerical Directory of The American Church 1932-33 (Northfield, Minnesota: G. Stowe Fish, 1932), 326.
4. Montague, W. L. Biographical Record of the Alumni and Non-Graduates of Amherst College, (Classes '72-'96) (Amherst, Massachusetts: Carpenter & Morehouse, Printers, 1901), 264.
5. "Notables to See Thayer Funeral," New York Times, New York, 1 December 1934, 13.
6. "Rev. Dr. William G. Thayer," New York Times, New York, 28 November 1934, 21.
7. Stearn, Alfred E. et al, The Education of the Modern Boy, (Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1925), 233-271. The Rev. William G. Thayer was one of six authors, all headmasters of New England private schools.
Photograph courtesy of David Thayer, Ipswich, Massachusetts.
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