St. David's Episcopal Church
St. David's Episcopal Church, established and built in 1854, stands as an enduring testament to Austin's rich history. Designed in the Gothic Revival style by its first pastor, Edward Fontaine. This remarkable structure holds the distinction of being one of the oldest buildings in the city*1. At the time, Edward did have a slave who was the sexton at the church, named Jacob Fontaine. While still a slave, he honed his pastoral skills by preaching in the basement of the old Methodist Church*2. Jacob would go onto become a leader in Austin’s black community, including helping to find 6 more churches, and creating the first black newspaper in Texas, The Gold Dollar*3. At the time of its construction, it was among a select few Episcopalian churches in the entire state of Texas. The church's origins trace back to the merger of two congregations: Christ Church, founded in 1847, and the Church of the Epiphany, established in 1851*4. Notable members of Austin's community attended the church, solidifying its prominence in the region.
St. David's Episcopal Church was built in 1855 and is among the city's oldest buildings.
This 1940s-era postcard claims St. David's as the oldest church in Austin, Texas. Image obtained from uncoveredtexas.com.
Backstory and Context
In 1859, the two merging churches, Christ Church and the Church of the Epiphany, united to form the Church of St. David’s. This momentous decision symbolized a coming together of contrasting views, with Christ Church being known for its anti-slavery stance and the Church of the Epiphany having a pro-slavery inclination that is now seen as a shameful part of their history, which the later leaders and members all denounced. The church changed its name to "St. David’s" in 1859, and was deliberately chosen to honor Bishop Alexander Gregg, who had presided over a church named St. David’s in Cheraw, South Carolina *5. The newly formed congregation found its home in the sanctuary originally constructed by the Church of the Epiphany between 1853 and 1854.
While acknowledging the complex historical context, it is noteworthy that Edward Fontaine, the church's esteemed founder, owned a slave named Jacob Fontaine. Surprisingly, despite prevailing societal norms, Edward provided Jacob with the opportunity to practice his faith and deliver sermons. This opportunity nurtured Jacob's spirit and talents, ultimately enabling him to establish additional churches once slavery was abolished*6. As a revered figure in the African American community, Jacob Fontaine played a pivotal role in Austin, leading the flourishing black community and making significant contributions, including the establishment of the first black newspaper, the Gold Dollar*7.
St. David's Episcopal Church has long been an active participant in the community. In 1924, the church acquired the former Physicians and Surgeons Hospital, transforming it into St. David's Hospital. This institution would eventually expand into St. David's HealthCare, a renowned healthcare system comprising 110 facilities, including seven hospitals, throughout Central Texas. During the era of World War II, St. David's demonstrated its dedication to community service by establishing the Church of the Good Shepherd in West Austin, as well as two schools and a chapter of the Order of St. Luke. Presently, the church remains committed to its mission of outreach, running multiple volunteer programs that provide assistance to the homeless, such as laundry services and meals. Additionally, St. David's offers various ministries and musical groups, enriching the lives of its members and fostering a vibrant sense of community*8.
- Wall, Barbra. “Reverend Jacob Fontaine.” The First Baptist Church of Austin. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://www.fbcaustin.org/Jacob-Fontaine
- Heimsath, Ben. “First Baptist and the Irrepressible Jacob Fontaine.” Heimsath Architects. Accessed May 23, 2023 https://www.heimsath.com/sacred-space-holy-place/first-baptist-and-the-irrepressible-jacob-fontaine & Wall, “A Study of Black History.”
- Heimsath, “first Baptist”
- Fowler, Beth. The Spirit of Missions. Austin, TX: St. David’s Press, 2000.
- “Saint David’s Episcopal Church Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, February 1, 2023. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=201988 & Fowler “The spirit of missions”
- Wall, “A study of black History.”
- Heimsath, “first Baptist”
"History." St. David's Episcopal Church. Accessed June 25, 2017. http://www.stdave.org/about/history.