The best use of wealth is to coin it into character.
Following the Civil War, Johnston married Mary Mercer Green, who hailed from one of the old River Counties families. The Johnstons had several children, including the Reverend Mercer Green Johnston (1868-1954), a TMI alumnus and an eminent and controversial Social Gospel priest in his day. J.S. Johnston planted his own land and practiced law until 1871, when he was ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church. His first cure was St. James Church in nearby Port Gibson, thence he served parishes in Kentucky and Alabama before the House of Bishops appointed him the second Bishop of the Missionary Jurisdiction of Western Texas. He moved to San Antonio and served the Diocese of West Texas until his retirement in 1914.
When Johnston began his episcopate, his diocese was 110,000 square miles. It extended from Brownsville to Luling to Brady and all the way to El Paso. It was definitely a frontier jurisdiction of large ranches, sometimes wild citizens, and different kinds of threats were ever-present. Life was difficult and dangerous along the Rio Grande. Indeed, Robert Elliott, the first Bishop of West Texas (and a fellow son of the South), worked himself into exhaustion and an early death. Episcopal visitations were tortuous journeys over hot, rocky, desert, and semi-mountainous terrain, usually undertaken in the early days of Johnston’s episcopate in a buckboard wagon accompanied by Texas Rangers and other armed guards. Banditos, outlaws, and Comanche had little positive regard for even ordained Americans who traveled through their wild haunts.
Johnston was an effective bishop. While the Episcopal Church in western and southwestern Texas grew steadily during his tenure, the bishop was also passionate about education. He was concerned to know how boys can become men. Bishop Elliott founded St. Mary’s Hall, a girls’ school, in 1879. Johnston wanted a boys’ school that would offer young and sometimes wild West Texans a premier academic course alongside serious Christian commitment and the development of character. The West Texas Military Academy was founded in 1893 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio, a stone’s throw from Fort Sam Houston. The Reverend Alan Lucian Burleson served as the first Rector and Headmaster of WTMA from 1893 and 1900.
Burleson was prepared at the Shattuck School in Minnesota, earned the B.A. degree from historic Racine College in Wisconsin, and was formed for the priesthood at Nashotah House. Burleson was a staunch advocate of high-quality Christian education and knew first-hand that the military discipline is a shortcut to the outcomes Bishop Johnston and most parents desire for their sons and daughters. The school thrived and is still thriving as a full-blooded Church school featuring premier academics, an emphasis on character formation, and a nationally distinguished Corp of Cadets. The Founder would be proud of what his vision has wrought.
Bishop Johnston was a progressive Christian for his day. His sincere solicitude for women and for African Americans moved him to found St. Philip’s Female College in 1898 (now St. Philip’s College). He was likewise deeply ecumenical in his outlook. Taking the words of Jesus in St. John 17 quite seriously, Bishop Johnston lamented the divisions in the Church at home and abroad. He wanted Christians to concentrate on the things that draw them closer together instead of the things that push them apart. Thus, he initiated meetings with his fellow Christians in San Antonio and South Texas and advocated for dialogue between the denominations and traditions on the national and international levels. He even wrote the Pope to ask for the latter’s leadership in the matter of Christian reunion. The Founder’s profound sense of hospitality and inclusion is alive and well at TMI today.
Bishop Johnston retired from active ministry in 1914 and removed to Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country. TMI-Episcopal is just one of many Johnston legacies, but we know from extant sources that the School was his pride and joy. Outstanding young men were coming out of WTMA, even before the Bishop retired. He died in San Antonio on November 4, 1924, and was buried in San Antonio. He served as priest and bishop for fifty-three years. A larger-than-life personality had entered into his well-deserved rest. He was a winsome and attractive man of God who endured much suffering, who through war, peace, and his pastoral duties had seen human nature close-up in its glory and in its shame, and who had worked with great zeal to advance the Kingdom of God among all sorts and conditions of men through the building of solid institutions that make a difference in the world to this day.