IN THE BEGINNING
by Patricia Anderson and Joseph M. Lalley
The Religious of Christian Education, who founded St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines in 1908, had been organized in 1817 by a French parish priest, Father Louis Francois Marin Lafosse, to open schools for girls after the French Revolution. At the time there were a few schools for boys but none for their sisters in France. The new schools were immediately successful. As more young women entered the Order, its schools were soon operating throughout Normandy.
By the end of the nineteenth century, an anti-clerical government came into power in France, forcing closure of many religious institutions and seizing property. Year by year, many religious teaching orders were expelled from the country. The Mother House for the Religious of Christian Education was, for example, forced to move from Argentan de France to Tournai, Belgium. In 1888, several of the Sisters, including Mother Suzanne Deplanck, left Belgium for England, where they founded the Hillside School.
In the early 1900s, the Order received a request from the Bishop of Wheeling, West Virginia, to send some of its sisters to Huntington, West Virginia, to establish an orphanage named St. Edward’s Home. A year later the Bishop moved St. Edward’s to Wheeling and staffed it with a different order.
Afterwards, four of the Sisters came to Asheville, North Carolina, to be companions to women in what they had been led to believe was an Asheville doctor’s convalescent home. They found instead it was a tuberculosis home, poorly operated, poorly furnished, cold, and lacking the chapel they had been promised. A month later, the four educators and one lay sister -- Rev. Mother Albertine Foret, Mother Noemi Mouquet, Mother Mabel Monk, Sister Marthe and Sister Adeline Bisson – joined Mother Deplanck and rented a house at 48 Starnes Avenue where they hoped to open a school. They received permission to do so from the Mother General of their order and from Bishop Leo Michael Haid of Belmont, North Carolina, and accepted their first students January 6, 1908.
Many years later, according to a 1938 article in The Asheville Citizen-Times, Mother Deplanck recalled that shortly after the turn of the century, she and the Reverend Mother Superior of the Order had visited North Carolina seeking an appropriate site for a school for young ladies. “When we saw these glorious mountains, and breathed this wonderful air,” said Mother Deplanck in later years, “I knew that it was needless to look farther. Almighty God has blessed us abundantly, and I never regretted the choice we made.”
With this quiet yet confident step of hope and faith, the Sisters established the first RCE school in America and initiated the institution that flourished in Asheville for 78 years and that endures today through its legacy.
Despite Asheville’s largely anti-Catholic attitude in the early twentieth century, the enrollment at Hillside Convent grew rapidly, as the Sisters expanded to larger quarters twice before purchasing the capacious Victoria Inn and grounds in 1910. In this location, the school became St. Genevieve College, bearing the name of the patron saint of Paris and tying the founding Sisters to their home country.Back To Top