St. Mary’s, Hillsboro, celebrates 150th Anniversary

St. Mary’s, Hillsboro, celebrates 150th Anniversary

St. Mary’s  Episcopal Church in Hillsboro is the oldest continuing Episcopal parish in the Episcopal Church in North Texas, having been founded in 1872. For 150 years, the faithful members of this congregation have carried out the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church, obeying Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.

They will celebrate their 150th Anniversary on Saturday, March 26, with a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 at their building at 301 South Waco Street, Hillsboro. The celebration will continue with their worship service at 11 am Sunday, March 27. Bishop Scott Mayer will preside and the Rev. Paula Jefferson will preach. Visiting clergy will wear white stoles.

The service will be live streamed through the diocesan Facebook page.


The Right Reverend Alexander Gregg, Doctor of Divinity, the first Episcopal bishop of Texas, made three visits to Hillsboro: September 1860, November 1871, and October 1873. St. Mary’s was founded in 1872 when Sarah Margaret Sturgis (1824-1895) started a Sunday school in her front parlor. It became St. Mary’s Mission when church services were added. Sarah Margaret’s husband, Littleton J. Sturgis (1830-1885) was the publisher of The Expositor, later named The Hillsboro Mirror.  It was the city paper for ninety years.

Alexander Charles Garrett, D.D., was consecrated the first Bishop of the Missionary District of North Texas on December 20, 1874. His see was at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Dallas. Six parishes were recorded in his district at that time. After his first visit to “Hillsborough” he described it as “a poor town of about three or four hundred located in a beautiful country.”

G.D. Tarleton purchased the property for a church from A.P. McKinnon on July 14, l883.  Bishop Garrett laid the cornerstone of the original church on July 30, l886.  The first service in that building was held on March 30, 1887.  Seven years later, the building was destroyed by a tornado.

“Tarleton Morrow, then a small boy, crawled under the rubble and brought out the wooden cross which had rested on the altar,” according to a history of the parish. Services were then held in a temporary building beginning on March 24, 1895. Next, a brick Gothic revival building was constructed. Bishop Garrett laid the cornerstone on December 16, 1910. The building was completed in 1911.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church has always been small but faithful. It has relied on lay leadership with a succession of traveling supply priests who might be in town once a month. The early lay members, Littleton J. and Sarah Margaret Sturgis, founded the church.  G.D. Tarleton, lay reader from 1906-1912, bought the land for the church. Tarleton, Tarleton and Morrow was the major law firm in Hillsboro in the 1890’s. Congressman Jo Abbott’s wife was Rowena Sturgis Abbott.

Dr. Frank McDonald was the Senior Warden from about 1910-1930. In 1915 the church sold him the middle lot of three on 200 North Abbott Street. His sons gave the property back to the church in 1984 to use as a Parish Hall and Vicarage. In one hundred and fifty years only two vicars have ministered to the congregations of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church for longer than four years. The Reverend Walter Meyers was here 1920-1927 and again from December 1931 to January 1934. The Reverend Wentworth A. Reiman served from September 1, 1964, to March1, l971.

In 2008 the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth suffered a schism when the bishop at the time left The Episcopal Church, but claimed Episcopal Church property. St. Mary’s was split 50-50. For the next twelve years St. Mary’s was the only church in the diocese to share space with its non-Episcopal Church counterpart. Episcopalians had their service at eleven o’clock, while the others had an earlier service. We shared flowers at Easter and Christmas. After twelve years of litigation, the Texas Supreme Court gave the building to those who had left the Episcopal Church.

The congregtion learned from its history — services were held in Sarah Margaret Sturgis’ parlor, then in a new building, and after a tornado in a temporary building.

“After one hundred ten years in the same building, we are again in a temporary building.

“But we remember that the church is not a building. We are the church. The church is wherever we are, just as God is with us wherever we are. In good times and in bad, through tornadoes and human-made destruction, the church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, continues to celebrate God’s love and to be Christ’s voice, hands, and feet in the world today.”