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 21st Century Institution
Originally the School was 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.
In recent years, the School of Theology has appointed a new dean, a new associate dean of academic affairs, a new assistant dean for community life, created and new position for the associate dean for recruitment and admissions, and hired new faculty in New Testament, Church history, Christian ethics, homiletics, pastoral theology, Anglican studies, ethics and the environment, and systematic theology. A D.Min. in preaching and one in liturgy has been added to the Advanced Degrees Program, and two new M.A. concentrations—religion and the environment and theology and literature—are now available.