Catholic education in Stark County can trace its roots to the farm of the family of John Shrob. In 1807, Shorb and his family were the first Catholic family to move to Canton. A few years later there were 15 Catholic families gathering together, under an Oak tree, on the Shorb family farm for Mass, celebrated with Father Edward Fenwick. By 1823, John Shorb donated 5 acres of his farm as a site for the first Catholic Church in Northeast Ohio, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Those 5 acres of farmland are still the site of the present day church which was named a minor basilica by the Vatican in June of 2012 and is now called the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. St. John’s became a center of missionary activity that stretched across Northeast Ohio, dozens of parishes were established after missionary work which began at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church including St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Canton.
While St. John’s was the site of the first Catholic church in Northeast Ohio, it was St. Mary Catholic Church in Massillon that has the distinction of being the most historic Catholic school in Stark County. St. Mary School began in the church basement in 1849, by 1855 a one room school house was built. Several Catholic schools which are still operational today were established in Stark County after St. Mary was founded:
St. Mary Catholic Elementary School - 1849
St. Louis Catholic Elementary School – 1852
St. Peter Catholic Elementary School – 1860
St. Barbara Catholic Elementary School – 1866
SS. Philip & James Elementary School – 1875
St. John the Baptist Catholic Elementary School - 1876
In 1876 St. John the Baptist added a permanent school to their parish to serve elementary students, that school would later serve high school students as St. John High School. In the 1900’s as the Catholic population continued to grow in Stark County a number of other schools were established. The Academy of Mary Immaculate was established in 1905 on South Market as a school for girls, run by the Sisters of Humility of Mary from Pennsylvania. The sisters acquired a 65-acre tract of land, the current site of Central Catholic High School, and moved The Academy of Immaculate Conception of Mount Marie in 1909. Mount Marie was primarily a boarding school, serving girls of all ages, including post-high school students.
During this time other Catholic elementary schools were established, including St. John’s High School in 1925. The student body was composed of both boys and girls from parishes throughout the City of Canton and surrounding areas. The Diocese of Youngstown was established in 1943, encompassing the same six counties it does now, Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark, and Trumball Counties.
The Diocese merged St. John High School and Mount Marie in 1945 to establish Central Catholic High School. At first, Central Catholic was divided into two divisions, Mount Marie was the girls division and St. John’s was the boys division. In 1950 an addition was completed which allowed St. John’s to move to the Central Catholic campus and merge with the Mount Marie division, established coed classrooms. However, classes were divided by gender again from 1954 until 1966 when the Christian brothers led the school. During the 1966-1967 school year coed classes were reestablished and have been maintained since. Over the course of this time, enrollment in Catholic schools continued to grow until reaching the height of enrollment in the late 1960’s. Schools established include:
Mount Marie Academy - 1905
St. Paul Catholic Elementary School – 1919
St. John Catholic High School – 1925
St. Joan of Arc – 1944
Central Catholic High School (merging Mount Marie and St. John High School) – 1945
St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Elementary School – 1953
Regina Coeli Catholic Elementary School – 1957
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Elementary School – 1957
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School – 1964
Catholic school enrollment grew so steadily that it was determined by the Diocese of Youngstown that more than one high school was necessary to serve the needs of students in Stark County. St. Thomas Aquinas was established in 1964 with the intent that Aquinas would serve the needs of Eastern Stark County while Central Catholic High School would serve the needs of Western Stark County. Like Central Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas began as a divided school with girls on one-side of the building and boys on the other until becoming co-ed in 1970.
Stark County Catholic Schools (SCCS) saw enrollment growth until the late 1990’s. While there were some deviations at individual Catholic schools in Stark County, as reflected throughout the nation, SCCS enrollment overall has trended down for twenty years. In order to address declining enrollment, the Diocese of Youngstown established Holy Cross Catholic Schools in 2012, a consortium to help Stark County Catholic Elementary Schools with development, enrollment, and marketing. The creation of Holy Cross Catholic Schools also prompted a restructuring of the Eastern side of Stark County Schools. St. Louis, Regina Coeli, St. Peter, and Our Lady of Peace Elementary Schools were designated as kindergarten through 5thgrade elementary schools, with all middle school students on the East side of Stark County completing their Catholic education at the newly expanded St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Middle School.
In May of 2017, a similar model was implemented in Stark County Catholic High Schools, creating collaboration and the ability to share resources between Central Catholic High School and St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Middle School. In July of 2018, Holy Cross and Stark County Catholic High Schools came together as one system, under one president, one board of directors, and a team of marketing, enrollment, and development experts. This new system approach has enjoyed great success. Holy Cross Catholic Schools realized stabilization of enrollment in the fall of 2015. In 2018, enrollment at both the high school and elementary level rose significantly and is predicted to grow into the future.