An Institution Grounded in Tradition, Prepared for the Twenty-first Century

Early History

From the early decades of the 19th century, when the founders of the University of the South first dreamed of a great university for their region, a concern for theological education was an essential part of their vision. Despite setbacks of the Civil War, the University opened in 1868, with modest resources and, within a year, Sewanee students were reading theology.

In 1872, the first Sewanee-trained Episcopal priest was ordained. By 1878, the School of Theology was formally organized as a seminary of The Episcopal Church, with its own dean, faculty, and building. The institution held an integral position within the University, as it does today. Telfair Hodgson, first dean of the seminary (1878-1893), acted as vice-chancellor of the University for 10 of those years.

William Porcher DuBose, the second dean (1894-1908), is perhaps the most outstanding intellectual figure in the history of the School of Theology, and is recognized by many as the leading theologian in the history of The Episcopal Church.

During the tenures of Hodgson and DuBose, the seminary assumed its characteristic position as an upholder of the great heritage of Anglican thought handed down from the universities of England. It blended together, in one institution, influences from the evangelical, the high church, and broad church traditions of Anglican theology and worship. It has continued to this day to embrace and encourage the wide spectrum of Anglicanism, rather than identify itself with one narrow part of the tradition.

A Twenty-first Century Institution

Originally the School was unofficially known as "St. Luke's" because it was housed in St. Luke's Hall, which was given by Charlotte Morris Manigault to the University specifically for a School of Theology. Following the merger of the Sewanee Military Academy (SMA) with the St. Andrew's School, located a few miles from the campus, in 1981, the School of Theology moved to the former SMA campus. Because this new location was a mile away from St. Luke's Chapel (west of the campus proper), seminarians worshiped in the building’s auditorium. In October 2000, a new worship space for the School of Theology, the Chapel of the Apostles, designed by architects E. Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings of Fayetteville, Ark., was consecrated. It is located in front of the academic building, Hamilton Hall.

The School of Theology is one of the 10 seminaries officially connected with The Episcopal Church. Further, it is the only one located within the Southeastern U.S., the only other Southern seminaries being located at geographical fringes of the region—Virginia Theological Seminary near Washington, D.C. and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Historically, the School of Theology's position within Anglicanism is generally considered to fall within the parameters of the high church tradition, whereas Virginia was seen as the seminary in the low church tradition.

The School of Theology has continued to define its role as a premier theological education institution in The Episcopal Church with the expansion the Beecken Center as an additional resource to the Church. Education for Ministry (EfM) is the keystone program of the Beecken Center. This worldwide extension program of in-depth study and reflection is one of the most respected Christian education programs in The Episcopal Church and throughout many parts of the Anglican Communion. The Center also offers additional programs to clergy, laity, individual dioceses, and congregations.

In addition, the School of Theology has an advanced degrees program. Established in 1937 as the Graduate School of Theology, it answered the call for continuing education for clergy. For many years, Massey Shepherd, a major figure in liturgical studies and the liturgical movement, served as its director. In 1975, it became the Advanced Degrees Program, offering postgraduate level courses to clergy over the summer months in Sewanee. The School offers specialized tracks in preaching and liturgy.

Supporting The Episcopal Church

Sewanee is an Episcopal center for learning. How? By offering all dimensions of educational experiences from grade six to advanced degrees, along with formation, spiritual reflection, and service. What Sewanee has to offer on its 13,000 acre Domain is unique for the Church, and Sewanee takes that distinctive position very seriously as it forms leaders, both lay and clergy, for the future.

Undergraduate students are introduced to, and formed by, The Episcopal Church in the College of Arts and Sciences’ intimate community. For the 1,700 students, almost all of whom are 18–22 years old, being part of this community is a particularly important aspect of their formation. Student activities include worship, outreach, choir, and community service, to name but a few. All Saints' Chapel is literally in the heart of the campus with glorious and profound worship in the Anglican tradition.

The School of Theology's seminary is committed to excellence in forming faithful and effective clergy and lay leaders for the Church. The seminary equips “those who equip the saints” with the tools and skills necessary to live, preach and teach those things necessary for all members of the Church to “bear witness to [Christ] wherever they may be; and according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” 

The School of Theology's Beecken Center is a training destination for those who want to found and nurture ministries and vocational discernment throughout the church. The group process culture and superb model of mentoring developed by Education for Ministry (EfM) is an extremely important sources of wisdom for the Beecken Center’s ministry to the church.

The Education for Ministry (EfM) program is a gift to the greater mission of the church: a program that helps to develop and nurture a theologically literate, reflective, and articulate laity who are equipped to live into the ministry to which we are all called through our baptism. Created in 1975 under the auspices of the School of Theology, EfM has touched more than 90,000 lay leaders of The Episcopal Church.

In addition to the offerings on the Domain, Sewanee is home to St. Mary’s Retreat Center, which supports the spiritual needs of not only the Sewanee community, but the Episcopal Church at large. As St. Mary’s enters it’s 25th year of offering spiritual hospitality, they continue to grow as a center of spiritual development where all may respond to the invitation by God to withdraw to a quiet place to pray. St. Mary’s is a center of spiritual growth for parishes, clergy, dioceses, seminaries, individuals and other organizations in the development of prayer practices emerging from the contemplative dimension of the Gospels.

Just a mile down the road is St. Andrew’s-Sewanee (SAS), a thoroughly Episcopal school (grades 6–12) with both boarding and day students across the United States and world. SAS enjoys a close partnership with the University and offers cross registration for credit and access to cultural events and outdoor life on the Domain. St. Andrew's-Sewanee offers an excellent education and formation experience, coupled with an historic mission in outreach.

Governing Board of the University of the South

The University's Board of Trustees is composed of the bishops of 28 dioceses of The Episcopal Church, together with clerical and lay representatives elected by each diocese and representatives of other University constituencies. The Board of Regents, to which the Board of Trustees delegates some of its responsibilities for governance, is composed of Episcopal bishops, priests, and lay people, and may include a limited number of members of other Christian bodies. The chancellor of the University, elected by the Board of Trustees, is a bishop from one of the 28 dioceses. The historic ownership and governance of the University by these Episcopal dioceses has produced a living synergy of leadership, resource, and mutual support, enriching the Church and advancing the University’s role in American higher education.