Review by Patrick Gahan
Heroic is seldom a term used to describe the Episcopal Church. Reverent, welcoming, and comprehensive rise to the surface, but rarely heroic. For that reason, William S. Wade’s St. Andrew’s: Not Just Another School is essential reading for those who love the Episcopal Church and have been formed within it.
Wade chronicles the founding of St. Andrew’s by the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross (OHC) in the foothills of the Tennessee Appalachians. This occurred years before President Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority brought electricity and paved roads to the region. The intrepid monks subsequently directed of the school through two world wars, the Great Depression, and the burgeoning disenchantment that swept across the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.
The fledgling monastic community would establish St. Andrew’s just east of Sewanee in 1905, a mere 21 years after OHC was founded with a handful of brothers. The monks would plant their new school over 900 miles from their headquarters in West Park, New York, which is more astonishing given that the order would establish the Kent School in Connecticut in 1906 and commit to extensive ministry in the struggling West African nation of Liberia beginning in 1921. Scrupulously searching the archives in West Park and Sewanee, Wade gives voice to these enterprising monks, whose fervor led them to deeply love and care for the mountain people.
Fueled with that devotion, OHC created St. Andrew’s with the dual goal of establishing a preaching and teaching hub in the Southern states and to evangelize and educate the “barefoot boys” of Appalachia. Little thought was given to preparing the impoverished students for college. After World War II, however, the monks expanded their mission to include boys from struggling families in the surrounding Southern cities and prepare about half of them for higher education.
I am among the rare company of living St. Andrew’s graduates, numbering only several hundred at most, which makes me fear the larger church may ignore Wade’s account. That would be a critical oversight. As we emerge from COVID lockdowns to face increasing public indifference about matters of faith, if not avowed hostility regarding the Christian Church, the story of OHC’s audacious vision to bring the true catholic faith to that once isolated region of the Cumberland Plateau may restore the ardor of our communion.
To that point, many of the monks who served St. Andrew’s had previously ministered in Liberia, which preserved the school’s missionary spirit throughout its 76-year history, a spirit that drove St. Andrew’s to become the first Southern private school to racially integrate. In 1969, I arrived at St. Andrew’s as a 14-year-old freshman from Birmingham, Alabama.
My provincial, segregated worldview crumbled when I discovered that many, if not most, of the leading scholars in my new school were Black. During all four years of my high school career, David Lenior, a Black student from Atlanta, tutored me in mathematics. My college admission was due in no small part to his copious intellect and enduring patience with me.
Not even the monks’ dogged valor could hold back the torrent of social and economic changes that flooded America in the last third of the 20th century. The landscape of private education dramatically changed, and the composition of monastic orders changed considerably, as well. As a result, OHC left the Kent School in 1943, and 28 years later it would relinquish control of St. Andrew’s.
The monks, however, had made an indelible mark on the mountain community, and under the leadership of the Rev. Franklin Martin, St. Andrew’s continued to educate boys and eventually girls, too, in the rich catholic faith of the Episcopal Church. In 1981, after Fr. Martin’s retirement, St. Andrew’s, Sewanee Academy, and St. Mary’s School (shuttered by the Community of St. Mary in 1968) merged to form St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School.
William Wade kept not one but three historic schools alive at Sewanee. One could argue that he brought St. Mary’s back from the dead. Furthermore, he never forgot OHC’s commitment to the children of Appalachia, and worked assiduously to bring them to St. Andrew’s-Sewanee. Finally, he pressed further by educating Lakota-Sioux children alongside children from the Bronx in his inventive and highly altruistic Summer Ascent program.
St. Andrew’s-Sewanee flourished under Wade’s 27 years of committed and creative leadership. Because of his heroism, the school “on the Mountain” flourishes still.
The Rev. Patrick Gahan is rector of Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio.