ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL

Bud Brooks
St. Luke's School.
St. Luke's School, a college preparatory school for boys, operated from 1941 to 1946. Courtesy Bud Brooks.

ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL. St. Luke’s School in Austin was an Episcopal Diocese-affiliated college preparatory school for boys that operated from 1941 to 1946. The school was located in the Hornsby Bend region eleven miles east of Austin, on the Webberville Road. When St. Luke’s opened, it was heralded as the only Episcopal prep school for boys in “this section of the country,” and filled a void that the Diocese had struggled with for more than a decade for the lack of such a school. It was designed to mimic the course of study of the well-known Kent School in Connecticut and was mostly a boarding school, with a few local students, and was composed of grades eight through twelve. Newspapers in other cities around Texas, including the Dallas Morning News, trumpeted the school’s opening and touted its boarding department as a high quality option for a boy’s education.

The founder and headmaster was Walter W. Littell, a Kent graduate and a Harvard- and Yale-educated administrator, who had recently come from Houston. However, he was mostly known for his years as a teacher and assistant headmaster of the famous ‘Iolani School in Honolulu during much of the 1930s. Littell’s uncle was the well-known Bishop Samuel Harrington Littell of the Diocese of Hawai’i. St. Luke’s Kent-like program was described as “self-help” education, whereby the boys engaged in the upkeep of the school while also having a full schedule of rigorous studies in the style of the Eastern prep schools. The rustic location gave the boys access to a “healthy life in the country.” 

Walter W. Littell.
Walter W. Littell, founder and headmaster (1941-1946) of St. Luke's School in Austin. Courtesy Bud Brooks.

Opening on the last week of September 1941 and with an enrollment of eight boys, St. Luke’s was located in a home once occupied by Dr. Joseph Gilbert, surgeon and founder of the University of Texas Student Health Center. But St. Luke’s could have hardly picked a worse time to open, as only more than two months later, the U.S. entered World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite this hardship, the school forged onward to create a quality education for its students. St. Luke’s held its first graduation in the spring of 1943, when just one boy, Franklin P. Dixon, a local student from Austin, graduated.

As the war dragged on, St. Luke’s struggled along with it, although the students there did create a “Flying Eagle” scout patrol to help with various activities related to the war effort. Although St. Luke’s was affiliated with the Protestant Episcopal Church, it had been founded privately by Littell. By mid-1944 the Episcopal Diocese took control of the school when Littell handed over the property to them and the school was incorporated. No evidence suggests that St. Luke’s ever had enough students to have interscholastic athletic teams or any kind of mascot or nickname. The largest enrollment at any one time appears to have been no more than fifteen, which was the school’s enrollment limit; some students dropped out before the school year was over.

St. Luke’s School held what turned out to be its final graduation in May 1946, with three boys graduating—one each from Dallas, Galveston, and Houston. Along with one graduate in 1945, St. Luke’s ended up with just five graduates in its five years. Although the war was over, the school was unable to keep pace and financially was hanging by a thread. In a letter to those five graduates, Headmaster Littell lamented the dire straits and offered three options: close for good, move to another place in “southern Texas,” or accept an offer by the diocese to “join forces” with an unnamed school in Dallas. With the school’s closing, Littell was apologetic to the five graduates, as he feared their diplomas would become “almost meaningless.”

While the last option (to “join forces” with an unnamed school in Dallas) was the most “doubtful” to Littell, that is what ultimately occurred. The diocese gave St. Luke’s the chance to merge its assets with those of the famous Terrill School for Boys, which itself was failing but was conveniently occupying the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church facilities. By combining Terrill and St. Luke’s, the diocese created the new Cathedral School for Boys in Dallas. It is not clear if any underclassmen made the transfer to Cathedral, but Littell did make the move to Dallas and became an administrator and teacher there, although he stayed for no more than three years.  

Cathedral School struggled right out of the starting gate, however, and never gained solid footing in its brief four-year existence. By fall 1949 the diocese and the school’s board began merger talks with rival Texas Country Day School, which was consummated with the merger announcement just before Christmas. In fall 1950 the combined Cathedral and Texas Country Day schools became St. Mark’s School of Texas. This merger worked overwhelmingly well, and St. Mark’s became one of the top prep schools in Texas and the Southwest. By the 2010s St. Mark’s School of Texas continued to thrive as one of the premier preparatory schools in the country, with St. Luke’s School serving a small but notable part of that history. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, May 23, 1943. Austin Statesman, September 24, 1941; May 15, 1946. Dallas Morning News, August 10, 1941. The Gargoyle, Yearbook of the Cathedral School for Boys, 1948. The Living Church, The Living Church Foundation of the Episcopal Church, August 13, 1944; August 8, 1946.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Bud Brooks, "ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL," accessed December 14, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kbs69.

Uploaded on November 19, 2019. Modified on November 21, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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