Community History – Covington – Mother of God Church

Mother of God Church (Mutter Gottes Kirche)

The German Catholics of Covington attended St. Mary Parish on 5th Street from the time of its founding. However, as their numbers increased, the need for a separate parish began apparent. In 1841, the Reverend Ferdinand Kuhr, a native of Eslohe, Prussia, was appointed to organize the Covington Germans into a new congregation. A temporary chapel was set up in a building on Scott Street in 1841. Mother of God was the second Catholic parish to be established in Northern Kentucky.

In the spring of 1842, the congregation purchased a lot at the southwest corner of 6th and Washington. On this lot, a new church was constructed. Bishop Guy Chabrat of Louisville laid the cornerstone on April 14, 1842. The church was dedicated by the same bishop on October 10, 1842. The new church was brick and measured 100 x 50’. The sacristy of the new church also served as a classroom for the parish school. Transepts were added to the structure in 1851.

Lay teachers initially staffed Mother of God School. The school grew quickly, and by 1847, the need for larger quarters was acute. That year, a two-story schoolhouse was constructed on a lot located behind the church. In 1857, a separate school for girls was constructed across 6th Street from the church. This three-story brick building was needed to house the ever-growing number of children wishing to attend the school.
The German population rapidly increased throughout the pre-Civil War era in Covington. A number of new daughter parishes were formed from the territory of Mother of God to meet these needs of these newcomers. These new parishes included: St. John in the Lewisburg Neighborhood (1854), St. Joseph in the Helentown Neighborhood (1855), St. Aloysius in the Westside Neighborhood (1865), and St. Augustine in Central Covington (1870).

Despite the development of new German parishes in the city, Mother of God congregation continued to flourish. In 1870, Father Kuhr and the parishioners began planning for the construction of a new Mother of God Church. The old church building was demolished and ground was broken for the new Italian Renaissance Revival structure. The cornerstone of the new church was set in place on July 3, 1870 and the building was dedicated on September 10, 1871. The new Mother of God Church sported a large portico supported by four Corinthian columns, two large towers and a cupola. In 1875 a magnificent Koehnken Organ was installed in the church balcony. Father Kuhr, however, did not live to see the building completed. He passed away on November 28, 1870. Kuhr had served the German Catholics of Covington for nearly 30 years.

In 1873, the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Walburg Convent in Covington agreed to staff the parish girls’ school. In the following year, however, the school was turned over to the newly arrived Sisters of Notre Dame. The boys’ school remained under the care of laymen until 1895, when the Sisters of Notre Dame assumed these duties.

In 1879, the Reverend William Tappert was appointed Pastor of Mother of God. At the same time, his brother, Henry, was appointed Assistant Pastor. In 1891, the congregation celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the establishment of the parish. In preparation for this event, the interior of the church was completely remodeled. Additions included five large murals depicting the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary by Johann Schmitt, new hand-carved wood altars by the Schroder Brothers of Cincinnati and two imported stained glass windows from Mayer & Company of Munich depicting the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.

A new parish school was constructed in 1905-06 on a lot opposite the church. The stone and brick three-story Renaissance Revival school featured a third story auditorium complete with stage, red velvet seats and a full orchestra pit. The building was dedicated on September 9, 1906. Over the next sixty 60 years, the building was not only used by Mother of God Parish but also housed Covington Latin School 1925-1926), Covington Catholic High School (1925-1955), Villa Madonna College (1957-1967) and Good Counsel School (1962-1971).

Father William Tappert died on March 18, 1907. He was laid to rest near the Shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the rear of the church. The depiction of Mary in this shrine was given to Father Tappert in 1882 by Pope Leo XIII. Father William Tappert’s brother, Father Henry Tappert was then appointed Pastor of the Parish. Father Henry Tappert was known nationally as a gifted composer and musician. Under his guidance, the parish gained a reputation for excellent musical productions. Its mixed choir was known and highly regarded throughout the Midwest. In 1917, Father Henry Tappert was raised to the rank of Domestic Prelate in recognition of his contributions to the Church in the field of music. Monsignor Tappert died on November 17, 1929. He was laid to rest next to his brother at Mother of God Church.

By 1918, Mother of God Parish membership totaled 740 families. The parish school was education nearly 300 pupils in grades one through eight. The faculty of Mother of God School was comprised of seven Sisters of Notre Dame.

In 1930, Father Edward G. Klosterman was named Pastor of the parish. During the Klosterman era, the parish celebrated its centennial in 1941. In preparation for this event, over $28,000 in improvements to the church were made. That same year, Father Klosterman was raised to the rank of monsignor. Monsignor Klosterman died on February 4, 1961. He was laid to rest near the baptismal font in the rear of the church.

The neighborhood surrounding Mother of God Parish became more and more commercial over the years. By the end of World War I, many of the parishioners no longer lived near the church. This trend continued over the next four decades. By the time of Monsignor Klosterman’s death in 1961, parish membership had severely declined. The parish school closed in 1962 due to low enrollment. Little more than 100 families were left in the parish when Father William Mertes was appointed pastor in 1971. Father Mertes provided the energy and spirituality to bring about a change in the parish. Limited funds were available at this time, and so a decision had to be made about the parish property. The parish school was demolished and transformed into a parking lot. This allowed the parish to spend funds to restore the church. Father Merte’s open style of leadership and welcoming demeanor attracted many suburban residents to Mother of God Parish. Mertes founded the Parish Kitchen in the community to serve daily meals to the less fortunate of the area. Mertes was also one of the founders of Welcome House, a shelter for abused women. By the 150th anniversary of the parish in 1991, the congregation had grown to more than 700 families.

On March 10, 1986, a tornado swept through Covington damaging the cupola of Mother of God Church. The congregation quickly rallied to rebuild the structure. While the structure was being repaired, a second tragedy occurred. Workers using welding torches accidentally set the building on fire. The Covington Fire department responded quickly and was able to extinguish. The water used to put out the fire, however, did much damage to the interior of the building. The building was accurately restored to its 1890 appearance. The cost of the restoration exceeded $1 million.

100th Anniversary of the Dedication of Mother of God Church (1971); Paul Ryan, History of the Diocese of Covington (Published by the Diocese in 1954) pp. 116-121 and 521-525; Cincinnati Enquirer, July 9, 1987, p. D1; Bridges (Published by the Parish in 1996); Brungs S.N.D., History of Mother of God Church (Covington 1941).

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