Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Mission was organized in the late nineteenth century by Jesuit missionaries in downtown Anniston. Half a century later, the mission became a parish and opened a school. In 1952, under the leadership of Father Frank Giri, the parish purchased the Wilmer Avenue School building on the corner of Wilmer & 15th. After extensive renovations, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School opened its doors to eighty students on September 1st, 1953. The school originally offered instruction to grades one through four and was run by four Benedictine Sisters: Sr. Hildegarde, Sr. Rita, Sr. Loretta, and “little” Sr. Carmelita, as she was known. An additional grade was added every subsequent academic, eventually serving grades one through eight.
Based on the increased demand for Catholic education in the area, a campaign was made in 1956 by Father Giri and Sacred Heart parishioners to build a new school on a 14-acre plot on McCall Drive. The new school, now called St. Mary’s Catholic School, opened for the 1957 academic year and, in its first year of operation, served over 180 students. At this time, the school allocated roughly ten percent of their enrollment for non-Catholics.
During the 1970s, St. Mary’s experienced some significant changes. Even though the number of students remained around 200, the school permitted a greater number of non-Catholics, averaging 35 to 45 percent of overall enrollment. In 1973, the Benedictine Sisters, who had run the school since its inception, returned to their convent in Cullman, Alabama, leaving the school to be administered by Sacred Heart parish. In August of that year, R. James Finley became the first lay principal, and, with the exception of two sisters from the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the faculty was composed entirely of lay people. The school’s name also reverted back to Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School.
In 2000, under the leadership of Father Richard Donohoe, Sacred Heart capitalized on an opportunity to purchase a much larger school building on the recently closed Fort McClellan Army Base. Father Donohoe and Sacred Heart parishioners wanted to expand the school from an elementary and middle school to a comprehensive PK-12 institution. In the fall of 2000, the school moved from McCall Drive to its current location on the fort. That first year, they added a ninth grade, as well as a pre-K program. (The Kindergarten program began earlier at St. Mary’s School in the fall of 1981.) The following year, Sacred Heart added grades ten and eleven and then admitted its first senior class in the fall of 2002. With the addition of the high school, more athletic programs were introduced, including basketball and soccer programs. In 2015, the boys’ basketball team won the school’s first 1-A state championship, a feat they repeated in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Thanks to the countless efforts of religious and laity, both named and unnamed, Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School has a rich history of providing excellent parochial education for this region and will continue to do so for years to come.