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CATHOLIC EDUCATION IN ASHEVILLE

Asheville once had a flourishing system of parochial primary and secondary schools. Catholic schools reached their peak in both number of schools and enrollment in the 1950’s and 1960’s and then went into a quick retreat in the 1970’s. Declines in religious vocations greatly reduced the availability of nuns and priests to staff the schools and the economics of hiring lay teachers to fill classroom vacancies accelerated the decline.

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Group portrait showing 21 nuns of St. Genevieve’s, in garden in front of hedges and statue of Jesus. Photograph by H.W. Pelton, 1935.

The oldest and best known of the local Catholic schools was Saint Genevieve of the Pines, which at one time occupied a twenty-six acre tract on Victoria Road. By the 1960’s, Saint Genevieve’s incorporated four distinct boarding and day schools on its campus, including The School for Secretaries, a grammar and high school for girls, and Gibbons Hall School for Boys. Saint Genevieve’s high school graduated its last class in 1972 and ultimately Saint Genevieve/Gibbons Hall day school merged with Asheville Country Day School, now known as Carolina Day School, in 1987. Saint Genevieve’s was unique in that it was not a Diocesan school. It was operated by the nuns of The Religious of Christian education. Noted novelist Gail Godwin is a Saint Genevieve’s graduate.

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Photograph of St. Genevieve’s, ca 1912. Trees line front of building. Photo by H.W. Pelton.

Asheville Catholic High School originated as Saint Francis School for Boys in 1949 by Franciscan Friars. The school became co-ed in 1957, grew steadily to an enrollment of approximately one hundred-fifty day students in the 1960’s and closed due to a sharp decline in enrollment in 1972.   Residents of the pre-seminary, Saint John Vianney Hall, attended classes at Asheville Catholic High School. As was the case with the nearby Saint Genevieve’s campus, the Asheville Catholic campus was sold to AB-Tech in the mid-seventies. AB-Tech’s Laurel Building, the gymnasium and the Smith – McDowell House were all once part of the Asheville Catholic campus. Cannongate, a Catholic high school not affiliated with the Diocese of Charlotte opened in Fletcher in 2013 and is the only Catholic high school west of Charlotte.

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Asheville Catholic High School (285 Victoria Rd; 1949-1972). Three-story Colonial mansion on 10 acres, originally the Fred Kent Home, then Belle Eden Hall rest home, and Stage Coach Manor guest house. Photo from newspaper clipping ca. 1949.

Three primary schools, attached to parishes, operated during this period.   Saint Joan of Arc and Saint Eugene’s schools were attached to their respective parishes. Saint Joan of Arc School, built in 1950 was on Haywood Road in West Asheville and Saint Eugene’s opened in 1955 on Culvern Street just off of Beaverdam Road in North Asheville. The two schools merged in 1980 to form Asheville Catholic School which continues to operate on the former Saint Eugene’s campus. The Saint Joan of Arc campus was sold for commercial development and the church itself relocated to Candler in 2007.

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St. Joan of Arc School at 915 Haywood Rd in West Asheville. The Gardner (Francis Cowan) House (at right in background) was the original building when the school was established about 1928. Photo taken ca. 1940.

 

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Group photo of students in front of “St. Joan of Arc Church and School,” at 915 Haywood Rd in West Asheville, formerly Francis Cowan Gardner House. Photo date 1930-1937.

Saint Anthony of Padua School opened in 1936 by the Franciscans on Walton Street in the Southside neighborhood and closed in 1969. Saint Anthony’s served primarily African-American students. The local Catholic schools were completely integrated at this time.

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Color scan of a long narrow one-story brick and stone structure with a statue in a niche on each side of the ornate entrance. The building formerly housed St Anthony’s School, operated from 1936 to 1968 by Catholic nuns. It served black students in grades 1-8. When this photo was taken the occupant was the Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by Richard Hansley, 2011.

 

Ed Sheary, Retired Director of Buncombe County Public Libraries is a 1967 graduate of Saint Eugene’s School and a 1971 graduate of Asheville Catholic High School.

2 comments on “CATHOLIC EDUCATION IN ASHEVILLE

  1. Toby A. Weir
    November 4, 2015

    I was the first P.G. Student to graduate from St. John Vianney Hall/Asheville Catholic in1962. Mother Winters was one of my teachers. A Rev. Father Henri was the priest at St. Geneieve of the Pines. I served as an Altar Boy on several occassions for him. I have great memories of my time in Asheville.I went on to study at St. Mary’s Seminary in Kentucky for two years as a seminarian. Bishop Waters was my Bishop at that time. Would love to hear from anyone who remembers me. Toby Weir. 603 312 0015.

  2. Rosa Hilbert
    May 26, 2016

    Hi Toby,
    I have been racking my brain but I do not remember you. My name is Rosa Lee Blanton (Hilbert) and I went to St. Anthony’s at 56 Walton Street from 1957 – 1964. Father Colum Dillon and Father George (last name escapes me) lived next to the school in the Rectory. I also remember Father Lawson Hoze (not sure if spelling is correct). I came across a couple pictures (one is dated 1962) of my classmates. I remember hearing that some of my classmates have passed away; James Drummond, Valerie Holloway. Mother Winters was one of my teachers at Asheville Catholic High. I went on to graduate from ACH in 1968. I wish I could find a photo of ACH before it was torn down. I remember St. John Vianney Hall, too. I remember the principal was a firery Latino Franciscan priest and you certainly didn’t want to cross him but I can’t remember his name. I remember we had to line up in the hall and he would do his visual inspection and you couldn’t hear a pin drop but you COULD hear the sound of his rosary beads or prayer beads around his waist and his sandals flapping as he paced in front of us.

    I have fond memories of high school friends. I have to admit that the saddest day was graduation. We had on our caps and gowns and I think graduation was held in the gym. For me, it was not just the loss of friends but a realization that institutional racism was alive. My friends were going away to college, making plans for their future and yet I was not allowed to enroll in college because of the color of my skin. The sting of this really cut deep but I prayed and asked God for guidance because I certainly didn’t know what to do. I ended up going to a small business college in Asheville & got a certificate as Office Assistant (Cecils Business College). I was so proud of myself. After that, I had several jobs and helped Mom & Dad. My dad died and I moved away from home to discover the world. Fortunately, 23 years after graduating from ACH, I managed to get my BA Degree from Shaw University in 1993. It was a
    struggle but I made it.

    I just wanted to share some of my story since the ACH days. We should keep in touch.
    Blessings always

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