Closed schools enriched Catholic education in western N.C.
The Diocese of Charlotte has witnessed significant change in the area of Catholic education during the course of the past 40 years since it was carved out of the Raleigh Diocese. Just as the needs and population of the Catholics in the western half of the state have grown and changed, so too has the area of Catholic education.
To adapt to these changes, some cities have seen Catholic schools close or merge with other Catholic schools in the area. Other cities have seen the construction of new schools to better accommodate the growing number of families seeking a Catholic education for their children.
Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools was founded in Charlotte in 1992 to provide a centralized school system in the Charlotte metropolitan area. (All other Catholic schools in the diocese are either diocesan or parish-based schools.) There are currently 19 Catholic schools in the diocese, serving children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Pictured: St. John the Evangelist School, Waynesville, in an undated photo. (Photos provided by Diocese of Charlotte archives)
There have been 17 Catholic schools which have closed, some even before the diocese was established. Here is a brief look at the history of these Catholic schools in western North Carolina:
— Asheville Catholic High School – Asheville Catholic High originated as St. Francis School for Boys established in 1949 by Franciscan Friars. It stood on the old Glen Eden estate. The Glen Eden mansion was converted into classrooms, and the stable into a laboratory. On Sept. 3, 1957, Bishop Vincent Waters established Asheville Catholic High School as a co-ed institution staffed by three different religious orders: the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, and the Religious of Christian Education. A new high school building and gymnasium/auditorium were constructed on the same Glen Eden estate property in 1959-1960. Bishop Waters dedicated the new facilities on April 24, 1960. Due to declining enrollment, the high school closed in June 1972. The property was sold to Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College two years later.
— St. Anthony of Padua School, Asheville - On September 28, 1936 the Franciscan Sisters of Alleghany opened the doors of St. Anthony of Padua School in Asheville. The school, which served primarily African American students, was attached to St. Anthony of Padua Parish, which was also staffed by Franciscans. The sisters remained until 1969 when they withdrew and the school closed. New City Christian School, which was established in 2006, now occupies the building which once housed St. Anthony of Padua School.
— St. Genevieve of the Pines, Asheville – The story of St. Genevieve began in December 1907. At this time, five women professed with Religious of Christian Education moved into a house at 48 Starnes Ave. They quickly established a school in their home by January 1908. By September 1908, they operated the school in two houses located on North Main Street (now Broadway) and had an enrollment of 80 students, six of whom were boarding students. Next, the school moved to the former Victoria Inn on Victoria Road and became St. Genevieve of the Pines. Classes at the new campus started in January 1911. In 1949, the sisters added Gibbons Hall for boys and began St. Genevieve of the Pines School for Secretaries in 1955. The Religious of Christian Education ceased operating St. Genevieve in 1971 due to a shortage of vocations and the age and poor health of the sisters. However, the school continued under the care of a Board of Trustees with some of the sisters remaining as teachers. St. Genevieve merged with Asheville Country Day School in 1987. Today, it is called Carolina Day School. The St. Genevieve property was sold to Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College.
— Our Lady of Consolation School, Charlotte – Our Lady of Consolation School opened on Jan. 28, 1957. It was staffed originally by three African-American Oblate Sisters of Providence. Fifty African-American students were enrolled. Later, enrollment grew to about 150 students in grades K-8. The Oblate Sisters of Providence withdrew from the school in 1983 and only grades 4-8 were offered after that time due to low enrollment. The diocese closed the school in 1988.
— Notre Dame High School, Greensboro – The school was established in the former St. Leo Hospital on Summit Avenue. Bishop Vincent Waters dedicated Notre Dame High School on Sept. 11, 1955, and classes started that same month. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur staffed the high school. A lack of vocations forced the sisters to withdraw in June 1968, resulting in the closing of the high school. Prior to 1971 the building was demolished, and the property was leased in 1972.
— St. Benedict School, Greensboro – St. Benedict School opened on Sept. 6, 1926. It started out in a house at 115 East Smith St. Four Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul taught 62 pupils. The sisters' convent was located on the floor above the classrooms. St. Benedict School closed in 1954 when the newly built St. Pius X School opened. The school property was leased to a business in 1968, and since then it has been converted into a parking lot.
— Mt. St. Joseph Academy, Hickory – The Sisters of Mercy established the academy in 1880 as a finishing school for young ladies. Mt. St. Joseph Academy sat on 13 acres located between Second and Fourth avenues S.W. and Sixth and Seventh streets S.W. The campus featured a convent, two small dwellings and stables. In 1888, because of financial considerations and infrequent reception of the sacraments, the sisters closed the school and sold the property to Lutherans from Ohio. The Lutherans converted the property into a practical seminary. Later, the seminary became the site of St. Paul Lutheran Church. After closing and selling Mt. St. Joseph Academy, the sisters moved to Charlotte and opened St. Mary's Seminary, the predecessor to St. Patrick School in Charlotte.
— St. Francis of Assisi School, Lenoir – The school was located in a house beside St. Francis Church on West College Avenue. Father Ildephonse Gillogly, O.F.M., founded the school, and it was dedicated in October 1947. Two Franciscan sisters from Alleghany initially staffed the school. By 1956, the school had 50 students in the first through eighth grades. The school was forced to close in 1960.
— St. John the Evangelist School, Waynesville – The school opened in September 1939 with an initial enrollment of 40 students in grades K-12. Six Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee, Wis., taught the students. Originally, the W.J. Hannah building provided classroom space as well as housing for the sisters. In 1956, Bishop Vincent Waters dedicated the new "modern" school erected on the corner of Church and Meadow streets. High school classes were taught on the lower level of the building, and grammar school grades met on the upper level. When the Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee left in 1963, the school closed temporarily. St. John School reopened in August 1964 upon the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis from Tiffin, Ohio. They remained until 1979, and then the Daughters of Charity took over. The Daughters of Charity operated the school for one year. After 40 years of service to the Waynesville area, St. John School then closed permanently.
— St. Benedict the Moor School, Winston-Salem – St. Benedict the Moor School opened in 1950 and was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis from Alleghany, N.Y. For much of its history the school offered education for grades 1-8 besides a day care center for children aged 3-5. St. Benedict closed in 1979 due to declining enrollment, but the day care center remained open for about another year.
— Other school closings of note include: St. Joan of Arc School and St. Eugene School in Asheville; St. Leo Military Academy, Sacred Heart College and St. Benedict School in Belmont; Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal School in Greensboro; and Christ the King School in High Point.
Also, Villa Maria Anna Academy in Winston-Salem moved locations in 1959, was renamed Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School and is now located in Kernersville.
— SueAnn Howell, senior reporter