Monte Casino Monastery and Chapel
Winemaking took place atop Prospect Hill in the Peaselburg neighborhood of Covington since before the Civil War. One of the earliest establishments was the E.A. Thompson Winery. In 1862, the United States government built a small battery on the hill to protect the City of Cincinnati from Confederate invasion. This battery was called Fort Henry and remained in service until the end of the war.
In 1877, the Benedictine Fathers, a Catholic religious order of men, purchased the winery property (76 acres) for $21,500. The Benedictines were invited to Covington by Bishop George A. Carrell in 1858 to care for the growing German Parish of St. Joseph at the northwest corner of 12th and Greenup Streets. The Benedictines purchased the winery property in Peaselburg in order to make altar and table wines. By the fall of 1877, a monastery building was under construction on Prospect Hill. The monastery was given the name Monte Casino, in honor of the Benedictine’s original monastery in Italy .
During its early history, Monte Casino produced about 5,000 gallons of wine each year. The first pressing of the grapes was used to produce altar wine for use in Catholic Churches in the United States . The second and third pressings were used to produce table wine under the label ‘Red Rose Wine.’ The first superior of Monte Casino was Father Luke Wimmers O.S.B. (1877-1888). His successors were: Father Alphonse Heimler O.S.B. (1888), Father Paulinus Wenckmann O.S.B. (1888), Father Sabastian Arnold O.S.B. (1888-1894), Father Otto Kopf O.S.B. (1894-1908), Father Sebastian Arnold O.S.B. (1908-1910) and Father Modestus Wirtner O.S.B. (1910-1917).
One of the most unusual buildings on the monastery site was a small fieldstone chapel dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus under the title of the “Sorrowful Mother.” This chapel was built by Brother Albert Soltis O.S.B. around 1904. The interior of the building measured 6 x 9 feet and contained several small stained glass windows. The centerpiece of the chapel was a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the body of her deceased son (Pieta). Over the door was inscribed in the German language, “There is no sorrow like my sorrow.” The chapel was once featured in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not column as the smallest church in the world.
During the Prohibition era, Monte Casino was limited to the production of 1,000 gallons of altar wine each year. No table wine was allowed to be produced. This limitation made the winery unprofitable. In 1918, Monte Casino was closed. The last monks left the property in 1923. The property was then leased to Frank Burkhart and family. The Burkharts produced grape juice on the hill. They remained on the site until 1953. At that time, the Benedictines buried in the little graveyard on the property were disinterred and their remains removed to the monastery in Latrobe , Pennsylvania . The Monte Casino property was sold to Fred Riedinger in 1957. Riedinger sold the property (except for the little chapel) to Hanser Homes Inc. in 1960. This company built a subdivision on the property. Two of the subdivision’s streets, Monte and Casino, pay tribute to the old monastery.
Fred Riedinger donated the little chapel to Thomas More College in memory of his deceased mother Alma. Thomas More College officials planned to move the stone structure from Monte Casino to their new campus in nearby Crestview Hills. On April 7, 1965 , the little chapel was moved from its original location by flatbed truck six miles to the Thomas More College campus. The trip took five hours to complete. The chapel was placed on new foundations facing a lake near the entrance to the college. The Bishop Carrell Council Knights of Columbus provided funding for the move.
Ryan, Paul Rev., History of the Diocese of Covington (Covington, KY: 1954), pp. 376-378; Kenton County Historical Society Bulletin, October 1999; Ticket, October 25, 1877, p. 3, Kentucky Post, June 13, 1923, p. 1, April 7, 1965, April 8, 1965, 16, 1965 and May 1, 1965.