History and Traditions

One can only imagine the impression the scene would have made on a wandering cedar chopper or a fence-riding cowhand from nearby Davenport Ranch.

It was a bleak, wintry St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26, 1949, in the sparsely populated Hill Country west of the state capital. A pilgrim caravan pulled up at a remote plateau, and from the cars issued a stream of ladies in calf-length coats and furs, gentlemen in suits and wool overcoats, and clergy in bright vestments.

That memorable afternoon the group witnessed a ground-breaking ceremony in which Bishop John E. Hines, headmaster William Brewster, Trustees, and other participants turned spadefuls of rocky soil on a spot that would come to be known simply as the “Hill.” Biting winds did not cool the enthusiasm of Hines, Brewster, the Trustees, their families, and other dedicated folk, who saw their dream of an Episcopal school in Central Texas finally realized.

“This is a happy day for all of us,” the Rev. Brewster said. “We promise to dedicate ourselves to education that concerns the whole person: body, mind and spirit.”

Hines was also touched by the experience. He later wrote in his diary: “St. Stephen’s Day. Broke ground for St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. The sun came out just as the ground was being turned . . . symbolic, we all hope of the warmth and light which a Christian school is destined to create for the whole Southwest.”

On Oct. 23, 1999, St. Stephen’s, a coeducational boarding and day school, commemorated the 50th anniversary of its ground breaking in a ceremony on campus attended by alumni, parents, Trustees, and other friends. Although much has changed since its founding, the school remains true to its origins.

A Rich History of St. Stephen's

List of 3 items.

  • 400 Acres and a Bishop

    Following World War II, many Texas Episcopal families expressed interest in a top-quality boarding school closer to home. A questionnaire sent to congregations in 1947 showed 63 children attending boarding school outside the Diocese. 

    The Rt. Rev. John E. Hines, then Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Texas, and later Bishop of the Diocese and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, launched a campaign to create an Episcopal boarding school that would provide a rigorous academic and moral education for the children of families in towns and ranches across the state. 

    The school site eight miles from Austin was chosen because of its proximity to the University of Texas and the seat of state government, as well as its remoteness from the corruption of city life. A look at vintage photos reveals the wilderness quality of the sparsely populated Hill Country location in the early years. 

    When the founders purchased the 400-acre tract, they took on the daily struggle of living in a no-frills rural setting. Their neighbors were goats, cattle and a variety of critters. Water was pumped from a 1,017-foot well. The only telephone was a mobile unit in an old car. When incoming calls caused the horn to honk, someone had to go outside to the car to answer. 

    The school’s original buildings blended southwestern ranch and mid-century modernist design. The native stone chapel, unadorned save for a huge timber cross hanging over the altar, exemplifies the school’s architectural esthetic, which is meant to merge the campus with the natural setting. The Chapel, at the center of campus, symbolizes the place of Christian spirituality in the life of the St. Stephen’s community. 

    The scenic Hill Country and its unique flora and fauna continue to frame the daily experience at St. Stephen’s. Although urban sprawl has brought several neighborhoods to the perimeter, the campus still offers hundreds of acres with hike-and-bike trails, as well as access to streams and the Colorado River along the school’s western boundary.
  • The Early Years

    St. Stephen’s Episcopal School was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas after years of dreaming and planning on the part of the Rt. Rev. John E. Hines, then Bishop Coadjutor, and many dedicated laymen and clergy. Their dream was to establish a school dedicated to Christian education. Its charter was granted by the State of Texas in July 1948 and the Rev. William Brewster, headmaster of St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass., was invited to become founding headmaster. After two years of much hard work and many gifts, the school opened for classes on Sept. 18, 1950.  There were 54 charter students and seven teachers that fall, and only six buildings: Brewster, Freeman, Ives, the old Dining Hall (which later became the Student Center and is now Gunn Hall), the Office, which is now part of a faculty residence, and Mr. Brewster’s house, where the Head of the Upper School’s family currently lives.  

    That spring the Class of 1951, consisting of three students, graduated. From its first year St. Stephen’s has been accredited by the Texas Education Agency. It was the only coeducational Episcopal boarding school at the secondary level in the United States. It was, therefore, something of an experiment in the church, and many people have followed its development with great interest. 

    The first years were particularly exciting ones for the student body. They selected the school colors and took the name “Spartan” for athletic teams. They published the first yearbook and named it the Deacon, a title that it still bears. The close relationship between students and teachers is a tradition started in those first years by the Rev. Brewster and the school community. Brewster’s leadership was cut tragically short by his illness and death in November 1953.  His funeral service was the first service in the Chapel.
  • Heads of School

    1950-1953
    The Rev. William Brewster

    1953-1957
    Robert M. Kimball

    1957-1973
    Dr. Allen W. Becker

    1973-1980
    A. R. (Tad) Montgomery, III

    1980-1982
    The Rev. Charles Rowins

    1982-1983
    E. K. (Charlie) Salls (interim)

    1983-1988
    Christopher T. Mabley

    1988-1989
    A. Jon Frere (interim)

    1989-2002
    A. Frederick Weissbach

    2002-2007
    The Rev. Roger Bowen

    2007-2016
    Robert E. Kirkpatrick

    2016-present
    Christopher L. Gunnin

Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Drive Austin, Texas 78746
Phone: 512-327-1213