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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.