Community History – Covington – Notre Dame Academy

Notre Dame Academy

The Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in the United States in 1874 from Germany. They were fleeing the anti-religious laws of the Kulturkampf in their native land. On August 15, 1874, several sisters arrived in Covington to establish a private academy and to staff Mother of God School on W. 6th Street.

On July 12, 1875, the Sisters of Notre Dame bought a parcel of property on W 5th Street. Construction on a combination convent and academy building began that summer. The new four-story, Italianate Style brick structure was dedicated on July 26, 1876. Notre Dame Academy initially accepted both male and female students in the primary grades. The academy was funded through tuition paid by the pupils. Additional classes were also offered in music, drawing, china painting, typing, bookkeeping and drama.

The academy grew quickly and by 1897, additional space was needed. This new west wing of the academy building contained classrooms and additional living quarters for the sisters. On September 17, 1901, the cornerstone of a new chapel wing was set into place. The new Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was dedicated on February 24, 1902. This addition also included a new four-story east wing that contained 4 classrooms and dormitory space. These additions provided the necessary space for the establishment of a high school program at Notre Dame Academy in 1906. Sister Mary Agnetis was named the first principal of the high school.

Enrollment at Notre Dame Academy greatly increased during the 1920s. In 1921, the Sisters of Notre Dame bought the old Crawford Mansion on the east side of the academy building. This home was remodeled to house the Notre Dame School of Music. In 1927, the Sisters of Notre Dame built a new motherhouse in Park Hills, Kentucky. This motherhouse became known as St. Joseph Heights. At this time, the entire building on 5th Street in Covington was turned over for use by the academy. The entire academy building was remodeled in 1930 to better serve the study body and the sisters.

Notre Dame Academy continued to grow during the years of the Great Depression. The high school program needed additional classroom and activities space. In order to provide this space, the two-year Commercial High School program was closed in 1934 and the elementary program was discontinued in 1938.

The number of young women wishing to attend Notre Dame Academy increased greatly in the 1950s with the arrival of the baby boom generation. By this time, the academy building in Covington was showing its age. The building had inadequate fire escapes and no real recreation area. The sisters decided at this time not to expend any additional funds on the Covington building. Instead they made plans to construct a new academy near St. Joseph Heights in Park Hills. In 1956, Sister Mary Agnetis met with Conrad Hilton, owner of the Hilton Hotel Chain. Sister Mary Agnetis explained the need for a new academy and asked Mr. Hilton to make a donation. Mr. Hilton donated the sum of $500,000. The gift from Conrad Hilton allowed the sisters to begin planning for a new academy. A building fund drive was inaugurated on May 23, 1960. The success of the drive allowed the sisters to break ground for the new $2 million academy in Park Hills on April 16, 1961. Classes began to be held in the new Notre Dame Academy on October 28, 1963. Bishop Richard Ackerman formally dedicated the school on March 1, 1964. The academy has flourished in its new location. In 1995-1996 a large addition was made to the academy building. This $ 2.9 million addition was officially dedicated by Bishop Robert Muench on September 8, 1996.

When the new Notre Dame Academy was occupied in 1963, the old building on 5th Street in Covington stood empty. The building was demolished in 1964 (except for the Chapel) and the property was sold to an automobile dealer. A car lot operated on the site until 1995, when the old chapel building, which had been used for office space, was demolished. The demolition made way for the construction of a new Federal Courthouse on the site.

Messenger, September 20, 1996, Special Supplement, p. 1-2A; A new Door Opens (Fund Raising Brochure) 1959, KCPL Collection; Kentucky Post-Times-Star, August 21, 1964, p. 2; Kentucky Post, February 19, 1902, p. 3.

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