Students leaving services at University Presbyterian Church west of the Skyline Campus. Before Parker Chapel was built in 1966, UPC served as the religious center for the Trinity community.
“Build a Cumberland university on these hills,” the limestone read in bold letters. Or so folklore has it: In 1848 in Tehuacana, Texas, Cumberland Presbyterian missionary Reuben E. Sanders was impressed by the beauty and tranquility of the area. He climbed a rock escarpment and, with his etchings, sealed the region’s fate. Two decades later, a group of Cumberland Presbyterian missionaries and teachers would select Tehuacana as the site for Trinity University.
During the nineteenth century, Cumberland Presbyterians founded or controlled nearly 40 institutions identified as colleges or universities across the nation. At the close of the Civil War, however, they began to reassess their strategy for higher education in Texas. This included evaluating three existing institutions—Larissa College, La Grange Collegiate Institute (later Ewing College), and Chapel Hill College—located in the Brazos, Colorado, and Texas Synods, respectively. (Although some sources refer to the "merger" of these three institutions to form Trinity University, in fact, there is no legal connection between Trinity and the three schools.)
When Cumberland Presbyterians decided to close the three smaller institutions in favor of a larger, more robust one, they formed a committee (like all good Presbyterians do!) to select the new institution’s name and location. Cities from across Texas put in their bids, but in a meeting in Waco in April 1869, they selected Tehuacana for the foundation of the university—much to Sanders’ delight!
Following the selection of Tehuacana, the committee elected a nine-member board of trustees, who were required to be communicants of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They also adopted the name Trinity University, a somewhat unusual choice for 19th-century Presbyterians. Traditionally, they chose names for institutions of higher education that were either regional, individual, or historical. Sources attribute the appellation "Trinity" to Henry F. Bone, a Texas
Synod representative, who reportedly deemed the name appropriate for an institution founded by three synods in the name of the Holy Trinity and designed to train students in body, mind, and spirit.
Trinity became affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) in 1906 when the Cumberland Presbyterian Church reunited with its parent organization. A subsequent denominational merger in 1958 created the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).
At the initiative of the UPCUSA, Trinity entered into a covenant relationship with the Synod of Texas in 1969—Trinity’s 100th year—that involved no legal relationship, but affirmed a common heritage and pledged mutual cooperation. The University is currently related by covenant to the Synod of the Sun, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This covenant was reaffirmed in October of the University's 150th year in a resigning ceremony with Mission Presbytery.
In modern times, Trinity honors its historical roots through an nondenominational campus ministry based in the Margarite B. Parker Chapel and a commitment to the intellectual, moral, physical, and spiritual growth of its students.