A New Kind of Theological School
Established in 1952 by Bishop John Elbridge Hines, the IVth Bishop of Texas, Seminary of the Southwest was born from the need to educate more Episcopal priests during a period of rapid post-war growth in the Episcopal Church. But Bishop Hines’ vison was expansive: he sought to create a seminary for ‘the whole church…centered around some kind of dialogue between the Christian faith and culture.’
Built on a five-acre tract of land in central Austin donated by the Charles T. Rather family in the early 1950s, Southwest soon became an attractive option for Bishops in and around Texas to send prospective clergy, as the other Episcopal seminaries were great distances away. Southwest remains as one of the only two Episcopal seminaries west of the Mississippi River.
Eight seminary deans have led Southwest since being established. The Rev. Gray M. Blandy was the first to hold that title, and each of his successors provided significant leadership during significant periods of growth and change. Dean Thomas Harvey’s short tenure (’68-’72) ended with his sudden death, but his reputation theological vision helped revitalize the reputation and trust of the seminary among Bishops in the region. Dean Gordon Charlton (’73-’82) oversaw a time of great change in the church, witnessing Southwest’s first female graduate to be ordained (Rev. Susan Buell) in 1978, and helped establish The Episcopal Church’s Center for Hispanic Ministry on the Southwest campus. Dean Durstan McDonald’s long tenure (’84 –’02) introduced several forward-thinking initiatives that still resonate in the church today: a revised curriculum to include lay theological education for non-ordained individuals, the creation of an alumni driven annual fund for endowment growth, and the building or revitalizing of the now iconic structures on Southwest’s campus: the Rather House, the Weeks Center and the now named McDonald Academic Building.
In recent years, the leadership of Dean Doug Travis (’07-’13) helped Southwest revitalize their fiscal health, introduce a master degree in mental health counseling, and navigate turmoil in the Episcopal Church with the creation of the Conversation Covenant. In 2013, Dean Cynthia Briggs Kittredge was installed as only the 3rd female dean of any Episcopal seminary in the history of the church. Her leadership has witnessed an academic and theological revitalization, with broad investments in ground-breaking initiatives meant to answer the call from across the church.
Once a regional seminary, Southwest is now one of the preeminent Episcopal seminaries in the United States, attracting students from all over the globe to pursue degrees in divinity, mental health counseling, spiritual formation, chaplaincy and pastoral care. Since its founding, 1,475 graduates serving in 50 states and 25 countries have graduated from Seminary of the Southwest.
Today, Southwest responds with clarity and action to the needs of the church and all the communities it serves. By preparing both ordained and lay leaders, clinically trained counselors, chaplains, and spiritual directors – as well as providing broad resources for theological formation nationwide – Seminary of the Southwest fulfills John Hines’ vision, and stands at the edge of an exciting frontier where the Gospel meets the culture.