For most of its history York County, like the Carolina Piedmont in general, has been a Protestant stronghold. During the colonial period and the American Revolution, the area was dominated by the Presbyterian Church, but the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of other Protestant denominations including the Methodist, Baptist, AME, and Episcopalian churches. The Roman Catholic community, however, remained a very small minority until well into the twentieth century.
By 1918 there were about 20 Catholic residents in Rock Hill, and the following year the Charleston Diocese created St. Anne’s Parish with Father William Tobin as its first pastor. In 1920 the parish constructed the first Catholic church in York County, also called St. Anne’s, at the intersection of Saluda and Chestnut Streets in Rock Hill. A rectory was added adjacent to the church in 1926.
In order to accommodate Rock Hill’s African-American Catholic community, the parish constructed St. Mary’s Church on Crawford Street in 1946. In 1951the parish established St. Anne’s Parochial School in the newly-renovated church rectory in order to provide a primary education for Catholic children. Seventeen students enrolled in kindergarten and first grade under the instruction of two lay teachers, Joyce Nunez and Joan Waterson. After the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, St. Anne’s School opened its doors to all Catholic children in the parish, regardless of race. St. Anne’s began the 1954-1955 school year with over thirty pupils, including five black children from St. Mary’s Church, and in so doing St. Anne’s became the first racially integrated school in South Carolina. For several years it remained the only integrated school in the state.
Nuns and Priest
By this time the school had outgrown the rectory on Saluda Street. With generous support from The Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rock Hill, the parish began construction of a modern one-story concrete and brick building on South Jones Avenue in 1955. With four classrooms, the school could now accommodate grades 1 through 6. Classes began in the new facility in the fall of 1956 with three lay teachers and 59 pupils. As the parish expanded so did the school, which added grades seven and eight in 1956 and 1957. In 1958 three sisters from the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary arrived from Pennsylvania to teach at St. Anne’s and live in a newly constructed convent adjacent to the school. The school also continued its commitment to racial integration; by 1961 there were fifteen black students enrolled. That same year the old church building on Saluda Street closed and the congregation began holding services at The Oratory.
The school gained a dining hall and auditorium in 1962, and in 1966 a fourth IHM sister joined the staff. By 1976 enrollment at the school had increased to 140 students, and two more classrooms and a library were added. Among the new students that year were members of a Vietnamese family that had moved to Rock Hill in 1975; this marked the beginning of the Vietnamese community in St. Anne’s Parish.
Having outgrown The Oratory, St. Anne’s Church began holding mass in the school auditorium in 1982. In 1986 the parish launched a campaign to erect a new church, and four years later the first services were held in a new sanctuary on Bird Street. While the new church was being completed, the Sisters of IHM reluctantly announced their decision to leave St. Anne’s School due to an overall shortage of sisters nationwide. The following year the parish began raising funds for a modern school and parish life center adjacent to the church. The new school on Bird Street opened in 1998, and in accordance with diocese guidelines both the church and the school changed their name from “St. Anne’s” to “St. Anne.”
On June 2, 1995, Saint Anne School graduated eighteen eighth grade students, their first class of eighth graders in 20 years (since the class of 1975). In June 1998, St. Anne School moved its location from 648 South Jones Avenue to 1698 Bird Street. On July 11, 1998, St. Anne Parish sold the South Jones Avenue property to the Girls’ Home of Rock Hill. The new Parish Life Center and Educational Facility was officially dedicated by Bishop David Thompson on July 26, 1998, on the Feast Day of St. Anne. The first day of classes for students in the new building was held on August 21, 1998.
On September 29, 1999 Robert J. Baker was ordained and installed as Bishop of Charleston. On June 19, 2004, Bishop Baker dedicated the parish life center as the Father William Pentis Family Life Center in celebration of Father William’s twenty-one years as Pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church.
The Catholic population of St. Anne Parish has continued to increase, numbering almost 5000 in 2007. This figure includes a substantial Vietnamese and Hispanic population, and those communities are reflected in both the church membership and the school student body. From its very humble beginnings with a handful of pupils in the rectory on Saluda Street to its present enrollment of 290 students at the modern school on Bird Street, St. Anne School continues to reflect the faith, service, and diversity of the Catholic community in Rock Hill.
On July 12, 2012, St. Anne School received official accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. After a diocesan wide concentration and effort, all schools within the Diocese of Charleston were officially accredited. SACS provides nationally-recognized accreditation, the purpose of which is continuous school improvement focused on increasing student performance. To earn accreditation, schools must meet SACS CASI’s high standards, be evaluated by a team of professionals from outside the school, and implement a continuous process of school improvement. Accreditation demonstrates to our students, parents, and community that we are focused on raising student achievement, providing a safe and enriching learning environment, and maintaining an efficient and effective operation staffed by highly qualified educators.
On March 6, 2014, Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, gave his blessing and approval to expanding St. Anne School to a K3-12 school. “Be assured of my blessing and my prayer in the enthusiastic endeavor which you plan to inaugurate during the 2014-2015 school year.”
Today, St. Anne Catholic School serves about 350 students on two campuses. The high school is now located on the campus of the St. Philip Neri parish in Fort Mill, SC. The student body has grown from just 6 students in 2014 to 80 students filling the halls for the 2020-21 school year.
Researched, compiled and written by Michael C. Scoggins, Historian for the Culture and Heritage Museums, York County