Elementary and High Schools
Drawing of St. Augustine School, Louisville, KY, c1870
After Emancipation and the end of the Civil War little was being done to provide for the educational needs of former slaves. Prejudice and discrimination persisted, especially in the South. When William George McCloskey was appointed bishop of Louisville in 1868, he pleaded for priests in his diocese to take steps to remedy this situation. Father John L. Spalding, later Bishop of Peoria, responded and immediately began raising funds to build St. Augustine Church and School in Louisville. Father Spalding asked the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to staff the school. The Sisters readily accepted and in 1871 began their formal ministry in education for African Americans.
Catholic Colored High School, Louisville, KY, c 1930
St. Augustine School flourished and the first high school classes were added in 1921. The school was accredited by the Kentucky State Department of Education in 1928. The Record reported on the event:
The school, St. Augustine’s (sic) is the only Catholic High School for the colored people in Kentucky. It is taught by four Sisters of Charity of Nazareth and one lay teacher. It is a four-year high school as well as a grammar school, and was accredited May 28, 1928, by the State. The school must be kept tuition free. The High School is necessary to develop a Catholic leadership among the colored people of Kentucky.
That same year, the high school became a diocesan school, moved to a different building, and was renamed Central Free High School. The school was later renamed Catholic Colored High School, and by the 1940s was known simply as Catholic High School.
St. Monica School, Bardstown, KY, c1880
In 1871, the same year the Sisters began their work at St. Augustine, they also began teaching at St. Monica School, the first school for African Americans in Bardstown. It was not until 1866 that it became legal to educate African Americans in the state of Kentucky. In that same year two African American Women, Josie Smith and Mandy Hynes, began offering classes in reading, writing, and arithmetic to all races and religions. Classes were conducted in a one-room house that was later purchased by Rev. Charles J. Truyens, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral, for continued use as St. Monica School. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were invited to staff it. A new building was soon built with two large classrooms as well as a stage area and dressing rooms for plays and other events. In 1881 there were 50 students enrolled and by 1912, that number topped one hundred students. St. Monica merged with St. Joseph School in 1966 and the St. Monica campus closed in 1971.
Graduates from St. Dominic School, Columbus, OH, 1958. The SCNs served there from 1914-1958
For over one hundred years the SCNs continued their mission to educate African American students, operating schools in Kentucky as well as Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Ohio, and Tennessee. As laws changed and integration provided more opportunities for African American students, the need for separate schools waned. By the end of the 1960s all of these schools had integrated, closed, or merged with other schools.
Schools for African Americans Staffed by SCNs
St. Monica School, Bardstown, KY, 1871-1966
St. Augustine School, Louisville, KY, 1871-1967
St. Peter Claver School, Lexington, KY, 1888-1927
St. Charles School, St. Mary, KY, 1890-1891
Catholic Colored High School, Louisville, KY, 1921-1958
(Central Free HS 1921-1928, Catholic Colored HS then Catholic HS)
Catholic Colored School, Owensboro, KY, 1940-1946
Blessed Sacrament School, Owensboro, KY, 1946-1960
Catholic Colored High School, Uniontown, KY, 1943-1944
Blessed Martin School, Waverly, KY, 1944-1962
Holy Family High School, Ensley, AL, 1943-1989
Colored Industrial Institute, Pine Bluff, AR, 1889-1901
St. Cyprian School, Helena, AR, 1939-1963
St. Joseph Colored School, Morganza, MD, 1927-1964
Vacation Bible Schools: Avenue, Bushwood, Chaptico, Hollywood, Leonardtown, Medley’s Neck
St. Dominic School, Columbus, OH, 1914-1958
St. Genevieve School, Dayton, TN, 1891-1895
St. Anthony School, Memphis, TN, 1937-1967
Students and Staff at Holy Family High School, Ensley, AL, 1943
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth began their mission in Ensley, Alabama with the opening of Holy Family Clinic in 1941. Holy Family High School opened in September, 1943 with seven students, two SCNs, and the goal to develop leaders in the African American community. By Christmas the student body had grown to twenty-five and had to move to a different building. Sisters Frances Louise Thompson and James Mary Higgins guided the school during these early years. Holy Family became the first all African American high school to be accredited in the state of Alabama and was known for the high achievements of its graduates.
Sister Jean Gertrude Lyons with the Bulletin Board Committee at Holy Family High School, Ensley, AL, 1959
The first male graduate, Charles Gordon ’43, was accepted at the School of Dentistry at the Jesuit University in Detroit and other alumni attended Marquette, Harvard, and Loyola. Students moved into a new, two-story building in 1956. Integration came to Alabama in the mid-1960s. Even when presented with new opportunities for education many students continued to enroll at Holy Family and the SCNs continued to serve there until 1989. The legacy of the Holy Family mission continues today at Holy Family Christo Rey Catholic High School.
Students at the Colored Industrial Institute in Pine Bluff, AR, c. 1900
The Colored Industrial Institute in Pine Bluff was the first school for African American children in Arkansas. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth staffed the school when it opened in 1889. By 1895, the school which had started with six students and two Sisters, had grown to six Sisters teaching 235 students. The school participated in the Catholic Educational Exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893.
Exhibits from Annunciation Academy and the Colored Industrial Institute of Pine Bluff, Alcove No. 54, Catholic Education Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL, 1893
The school was awarded two medals and two diplomas for superior literary and industrial work, and their exhibit was described as “The most remarkable of the schools for colored children…There was no exhibition of work from colored children at the World’s Fair to compare with it.” The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth withdrew from the Colored Industrial Institute in 1901.
Nazareth College (Later Spalding College/University) was also the first institution in Kentucky to offer degrees in Library Science for African American students.
St. Joseph School, Morganza, MD
St. Joseph Colored Parochial School opened in Morganza, Maryland in 1927. Sisters Elise Bergdoll and Charles Burch were the first teachers. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth had been missioned in Morganza teaching in the parish’s white school since it opened in 1924. School attendance fluctuated but by 1955 enrollment in the African American school reached 260 students from six parishes. As both the white and black schools grew it became obvious that a new school would be needed. It was announced in 1964 that a new, consolidated school would be opened to serve children from St. Joseph’s and surrounding parishes and this new school would be integrated. The Sisters felt very strongly that integration was the right thing to do and after some resistance from local white families the new school, named after Mother Catherine Spalding, opened and was very successful. The SCNs concluded their ministry there in 1995.
Catholic Colored School-Blesses Sacrament, Owensboro, KY
Owensboro Catholic Colored School was opened to serve the African American children of that city in 1940. Mother Ann Sebastian agreed to send two Sisters to staff the school and Sisters Margaret Patrick Gallagher and Helen Joseph Wise made up the first faculty. Catholic students paid no tuition while Protestants paid fifteen cents per week. High School classes were added and the first students graduated in 1945. The school moved into a larger building and was renamed Blessed Sacrament School in 1946. Repeal of the Day Law and integration caused a drop in enrollment and the school was closed in 1960.
Letter from the Bishop of Nashville thanking the Sisters for agreeing to take St. Anthony School in Memphis, TN, June 27, 1937. At this time the city of Memphis was part of the Diocese of Nashville
The SCNs began their ministry at St. Anthony School in Memphis in 1937, taking over from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, who had worked in the school since it opened in 1909. High school classes were added in 1940. Enrollment reached 175 students in 1941, and by 1947 six SCNs staffed the school. In 1956, the high school was closed but the elementary school continued with over two hundred students. The parish moved in 1961 and St. Anthony School closed in 1967.
Holy Family was the first African American high school to be accredited in the state of Alabama.
Nazareth College students Vivian Fykes and Arlee May were awarded prestigious internships at Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies in 1961
In 1904, the Commonwealth of Kentucky passed what was known as the Day Law. This law prohibited teaching Black and White students in the same school, building, or classroom. All SCN schools in Kentucky obeyed this law, including Nazareth College, Louisville. In 1950, the Day Law was amended to allow integration on a voluntary basis. Nazareth College led the way, along with Bellarmine College and Ursuline College, admitting thirty-five African American students for the first time that Fall. Nazareth College (Later Spalding College/University) was also the first institution in Kentucky to offer degrees in Library Science for African American students.
The Colored Industrial Institute in Pine Bluff was the first school for African American children in Arkansas.
“I became the first African-American chemist at Brown-Forman in April 1966. When I graduated Nazareth College in 1953, I could not find a job as a chemist in this area. Of the hundred-plus graduates, there were only two African Americans. My first job was as a clerk/typist at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana.”