St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church is the oldest African-American Episcopal Church in the State of Texas. The congregation was organized in June 1884, in response to 50 black seamen who petitioned the Rev. Charles M. Parkman, then rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Prior to 1884, African-American Episcopalians on Galveston Island attended services held for them at Grace Episcopal Church (1115 36th Street) on Wednesday and Friday evenings.
In 1885, Bishop Gregg sent the Rev. Dr. William F. Floyd to Galveston where he founded St. Augustine’s Mission for the people of color. A temporary site for the first chapel was established on the corner of Fifth Street and Avenue L, where Rev. Floyd preached his first sermon as the mission’s first vicar. Floyd traveled around the diocese to raise funds to construct a permanent chapel before died unexpectedly of yellow fever in August 1887.
On September 16, 1888, the Rev. Thomas White Cain of Richmond, Virginia arrived in Galveston as the missionary priest and vicar of the newly organized mission. He resumed the job to raise funds for a permanent chapel, and under his leadership,a church was built on the southeast corner of 22nd Street and Broadway in 1889. Father Cain was noted for his outstanding work in the community and for organizing the first Negro Industrial School in this area. By 1897 there were more than 180 African-American congregants at St. Augustine.
On September 8, 1900, disaster struck when the church and rectory were literally washed away, and all records destroyed by the hurricane known as the Great Storm. Father Cain and his wife lost their lives, along with thousands of Galvestonians. After the storm, the surviving members of St. Augustine’s congregation held their services at Eaton Memorial Chapel at Trinity Church, through the courtesy of its rector, the Rev. Dr. Stephen M. Bird.
In 1901, the Rev. Walter Henry Marshall became the next priest in charge of St. Augustine. Under his leadership, the current sanctuary was constructed at a cost of $8,500 and was fully funded by the parishioners. It is speculated that famed Galveston architect, Nicolas Clayton, may have assisted with the design. During that time, Clayton was working with Grace Episcopal and St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church, which was across 22nd Street from St. Augustine’s.
With great joy and pride, the new church held its first service on Easter Day, 1902. Later that year, Bishop George H. Kinsolving consecrated the church as a memorial to Rev. Thomas White Cain. The high altar, formerly used by Trinity Episcopal Church and still in use today, was donated in memory of Rev. Dr. Stephen M. Bird, a close friend of Rev. Cain. The sanctuary and bell tower of St. Augustine are excellent examples of gothic vernacular architecture, commonly used on Episcopal churches of this age.
In 1940, the lot at Broadway and 22nd Street was sold, and more spacious grounds on the southeast corner of 41st and Avenue M½ were acquired. Between July and August of 1940, the church was cut in half and moved with the parsonage to the current site. The primary purpose of the move was to facilitate the work of the church among young people and to render better service to its members. It was at this time that a small fellowship hall was constructed at the rear of the church. This small structure served the congregation until a larger fellowship hall was constructed, sometime before 1955. In December 1955, plans were issued for the construction of a two-story classroom and parsonage to connect with the south end of the fellowship hall. The church commissioned the drawings under the direction of Rev. Fred W. Sutton, who is best remembered as the founder of a small missionary outpost for African-American youth named St. Vincent’s House. This mission of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas still serves as an outreach to the disadvantaged and underserved people of Galveston County.
St. Augustine continued to thrive as a family parish for decades, with its most recent full-time rector, the Rev. E. Harvey Buxton, resigning in 1989. In the following years, St. Augustine functioned with lay leadership, utilizing supply priests and at times, the service of vicars assigned by the Diocese.
In December 2001, the Rev. C. Kern Huff (a former vicar of St. Augustine), with the assistance of Sen. Joseph Lieberman, succeeded in getting St. Augustine named as one of the “Ten Sacred Places to Save in 2001.” During his time as lay vicar, the Rev. Dr. Helen W. Appelberg served as celebrant at St. Augustine when her duties as Visiting Scholar at the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Sealy Center on Aging and as Executive Director of the William Temple Episcopal Center permitted. In the fall of 2008, the Right Rev. Don Wimberly, Diocesan Bishop, assigned Rev. Chester J. Makowski to serve at St. Augustine.
Shortly after Fr. Makowski received his assignment, Hurricane Ike struck, severely flooding the old and new fellowship halls and classroom wing. With the exception of one broken window, the historic sanctuary was undamaged. Services resumed in October of 2008. During the following months, two other church congregations, one Baptist and one non-denominational utilized St. Augustine’s sanctuary for their services, while Fr. Maakowski worked with the church’s lay leadership to repair and restore St. Augustine to meet the needs of the congregation and wider community.
In celebration of the 125th anniversary of St. Augustine in 2009, a new parish hall and classroom wing was dedicated and opened to the public. More recently, St. Augustine has expanded its outreach efforts by sponsoring an annual juried art show, a BBQ cook-off, and the opening of a community garden on the west side of the church. These programs and fundraisers serve to open the church to the community and in turn, open the community to the church, making St. Augustine a place of reconciliation where people can reconnect with God, their neighbors, and themselves, believing that with “God’s power, working in us, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”