The history of a Catholic high school in Knoxville reaches back as far as the late 1800’s when a formal high school curriculum was introduced at St. Mary’s Parish School on Summit Hill. In 1874 some alterations were made on the church building, which housed the school, and a year later the Sisters of St. Joseph arrived to take charge of the school. These sisters established a reputation for academic excellence that has characterized Catholic education in Knoxville to the present day.
In 1887, the Sisters of Charity assumed direction of the Catholic school. Their tenure in Knoxville was brief, but under their guidance a formal high school curriculum was introduced at St. Mary’s Parish School.
In 1896, control of the school passed to the Sisters of Mercy. From the end of the Civil War to the turn of the century, the number of students in the Catholic school grew steadily necessitating expansion in both the curriculum and the school buildings.
By the years of World War I, the need for a formal four-year high school program with its own facilities was apparent. During the early 1920’s the planning for such a school was well under way. The task of bringing the plans for a Catholic high school to reality fell to Father Francis D. Grady, pastor of Immaculate Conception parish from 1917 to 1935. In 1929, the Great Depression threatened to defeat plans for a new school. However, with courage and a great deal of faith, Father Grady brushed aside these formidable obstacles and in January of 1932 purchased the old Ashe home at 1610 East Magnolia Avenue. The Sisters of Mercy opened the school to its first group of students in the fall of 1932.
The new Catholic High School on East Magnolia registered 98 young men and women in 1932. The faculty was composed of four Sisters of Mercy and two lay teachers. The Reverend Christopher P. Murray was appointed director of Knoxville Catholic High School in 1941.
Under the direction of Father Murray additional space was added including a gymnasium-auditorium, dressing rooms, showers and a science laboratory. In 1947, Knoxville Catholic High School became an accredited member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
March 1951 saw the breaking of ground for another addition. The new building included five classrooms, a library, offices, lavatories, and an addition to the gymnasium. Space was made for a cafeteria and a chapel.
The extensive campus provided fields for softball, basketball, and other sports. Father Herbert Prescott became the first priest-principal of Knoxville Catholic High School in 1962. Father John Batson was named principal in 1965 and Father Xavier Mankel in 1967. Father Mankel had a long and distinguished career helping to monitor and guide the growth and development of KCHS until 1979.
Father Michael Johnston was appointed as the fourth priest-principal to serve KCHS in 1979. Father Frank Richards followed in 1982. At this time the School Board of KCHS began to organize a major capital Fund Raising Campaign to ensure the future of KCHS. Father G. Patrick Garrity arrived as principal in 1985. The school continued to grow in facilities and students.
Enrollment continued to increase over the next several years and with it a growth of faculty. The decision to move KCHS to a new facility was announced in February of 1997. After almost seven decades on Magnolia Avenue, KCHS would be moving to the Cedar Bluff area of West Knoxville. In July of 1997, Mr. Philip Dampf became the principal of KCHS and he oversaw the school’s move to West Knoxville.
On January 3, 2000, Bishop Joseph E. Kurtz officially dedicated the new Knoxville Catholic High School at 9245 Fox Lonas Road. In 2001, Mr. Dampf resigned and Dr. Aurelia Montgomery was appointed as Interim Principal. After the successful completion of a $1 million campaign, KCHS was proud to announce the building of an All Sports Complex. Construction of the All Sports Complex was finished in 2002 in order to accommodate the growing athletic programs for KCHS.
In 2004, Dr. Montgomery retired as Interim Principal and the search committee found a successful candidate in Mr. Dickie Sompayrac, who began his tenure as KCHS principal in 2005. A new Performing Arts Center was built and dedicated in 2005, providing much needed space for the performing arts. As enrollment continues to increase, plans are underway to build additional facilities.
In November of 2006, KCHS launched the three-phased Living our Mission through Growth Capital Campaign. Through the generous support of our school community, we raised $4.9 million and successfully met our campaign goals: adding an academic wing, increasing our endowment and expanding our fitness facilities.
On January 6, 2008, KCHS celebrated the completion of the new wing with a blessing ceremony performed Reverend Al Humbrecht. The expansion was the first phase of our capital campaign and added ten classrooms, a guidance suite and additional parking to our campus. Reverend Chris Michelson, Pastor of St. Albert the Great and Capital Campaign Chair, announced the wing would be dedicated as Schaad Hall.
With a generous donation to the school’s endowment from the late Isabel Ashe Bonnyman ‘39, we were able to complete the second phase of our campaign and provide the school with a solid financial foundation. Faris Field House was named for John and Sondra Faris and completed the capital effort. It added 8,000 square feet of training and storage for our growing boys’ and girls’ fitness programs.