Community History – Covington – Saint Aloysius Church and School

Saint Aloysius Church and School

The German Catholics of the west end attended Mother of God Church on 6th Street in the pre-Civil War era. By 1865, Mother of God could no longer accommodate the large numbers of residents who wished to attend services and enroll in the parish school. On January 8, 1865, a number of west end Catholics met in a grocery store on Bakewell Street to organize a new congregation. Before the end of the month, a parcel of land measuring 159 x 87’ was acquired at the southeast corner of 7th and Bakewell Street.

On this lot, the congregation began construction a three-story brick building that would house the church on the first floor, a convent on the second floor and a school on the third floor. This first St. Aloysius Church was dedicated on September 17, 1865. The building committee consisted of the following gentlemen: Louis Schnorbus, August Berger, Henry Niemeyer, Herman Roemer and Henry Sommer. The first pastor of the congregation was Father Edward Froehlich.

St. Aloysius Parish grew very quickly. Within five months of the dedication of the first building, the congregation had already begun planning for the construction of a permanent church. Louis Picket was chosen as the architect to draw the plans which called for a Romanesque Revival structure with a central tower and pointed spire. The cornerstone of the new building was laid on January 1, 1867 and the structure was dedicated on November 24, 1867. The building measured 165’ in length and 64’ in width.

Under the guidance of Father Joseph Blenke, pastor of the congregation from 1887-1907, a grotto (shrine) to Our Lady of Lourdes was built in the undercroft of the church in 1889. The grotto contained a large fieldstone wall with a niche for a statue of Our Lady. The grotto also featured a miniature spring, similar to the one found at Lourdes, France. Water from Lourdes was periodically shipped to Covington to supply the spring. The vestibule to the grotto contained several hand carved statuary groups which had been imported from Germany. One statuary group depicted the first miracle at Lourdes. Another group portrayed the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus with St. Dominic and St. Rita in the foreground. The grotto became a popular place of private prayer in the Northern Kentucky area. In 1902, Pope Pius XIII declared the grotto at St. Aloysius Church a national shrine.

Father Blenke was also responsible for building an additional schoolhouse for the congregation. The brick structure was built in the late 1880s on 8th Street behind the church. Originally, St. Aloysius School was taught by a layman by the name of Mr. Flaute and the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana. Father Blenke was also responsible for the construction of a permanent rectory for the parish.

About 1895, the parish installed two large stained glass windows (36 x 12’) in the church transepts. The windows were provided by the Royal Institute of Bavarian Glass Painting of Munich, Germany. In 1896, eight additional windows were installed.

Father Joseph Blenke passed away in 1907. At the time of Blenke’s death, St. Aloysius was the largest parish in the Diocese of Covington with 4000 members and 784 children enrolled in the parish school. Father Blenke’s successor was the Reverend Ignatius Ahmann. Father Ahmann worked diligently to improve the condition of the parish church. In preparation for the congregation’s golden jubilee, both the exterior and interior of the church were beautified and improved. Work on the exterior of the building began in 1911 using the plans of local architect David Davis. This work included the installation of a stone portico over the front entrance, the facing of the brickwork with stone and the reconstruction of the original steeple and Gothic spire. The spire was replaced by a graceful copper cupola. A new illuminated Howard clock was placed in the tower in 1915 at the cost of $4,000. The work on the interior of the church began in 1914 and included the installation of a new organ and communion rail, the installation of 12 pilasters on the side walls, new frescos and several plaster arabesque works. During the month of May 1915, the golden jubilee of the parish and the silver jubilee of Father Ahmann’s ordination were joyfully celebrated.

St. Aloysius continued to maintain a stable membership in the years following World War I. In 1920, 847 families were registered at the parish with 685 children enrolled in school. In 1923, 14 new art glass windows were installed in the church. The windows were supplied by the Deprato Statuary Company for the sum of $16,000.

In 1932, plans were drawn by George Lubrecht to build a new school for the congregation on 8th Street. The cornerstone of the new structure was laid on September 18, 1932 and the building was ready for occupancy in May 1933.

Father Ahmann’s pastorate came to and ends in 1949. He had led the parish for more than 42 years. His successor was Father Nicholas Judermanns. During Father Judermann’s tenure, the parish began to suffer the loss of parishioners due to urban flight. By 1950, school enrollment had decreased to 485 pupils. In 1952, the Sisters of St. Francis withdrew from the parish and were replaced by the Sisters of Divine Providence.

In 1966, Father Raymond McClanahan was named the co-pastor of St. Aloysius and St. Patrick Parishes. In the following year, St. Patrick Parish was closed due to urban renewal and declining membership. The parishioners were encouraged to join with the people of St. Aloysius. Despite this influx of new members, St. Aloysius continued to decline. In 1979, the decision was made to close St. Aloysius School when only 98 pupils enrolled. The school was renovated into housing for senior citizens.
The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto was restored in 1976-77 under the sponsorship of the St. Aloysius Catholic War Veterans. Italian immigrants Rino Mumphrey and Bert Moriconi were hired to complete the work. The improvements included: the repainting of all the statuary, restoration of several large oils on canvass and the painting of two new landscape murals.

On May 16, 1985 (the Feast of the Ascension), St. Aloysius Church was struck by lightning. By the time the fire department arrived, much of the roof was completely engulfed in flames. Within a short period of time, the cupola of the building collapsed onto 7th Street. A number of area residents were forced to evacuate their homes. By the time the fire was extinguished, only the shell of the building remained.

Many parishioners of St. Aloysius requested that the church be rebuilt. However, few Catholics lived in the neighborhood and Mother of God and St. John Parishes were located nearby. Membership amounted to little more than 200 households. In January 1986, Bishop William A. Hughes announced that St. Aloysius would be merged with Mother of God Parish. The former St. Aloysius site was cleared and paved for use as a neighborhood parking lot.

St. Aloysius Church, Covington, Kentucky, Diamond Jubilee Celebration, 1865-1940; Parochial Symphony of St. Aloysius Church 1909; Tenkotte, Paul “Heritage of Art and Faith: Downtown Covington Churches (Covington, KY: Kenton County Historical Society 1986) pp. 7-20 and 97-101; Ryan, History of the Diocese of Covington (Covington, KY: 1954) pp. 487-491; Messenger, April 25, 1949; Kentucky Post, February 15, 1915, p. 1, February 26, 1915, p. 1, October 16, 1920, p. 1, April 27, 1933, March 25, 1976, May 17, 1985, p. 1 and May 18, 1985, p. 1; Cincinnati Enquirer, September 19, 1865, p. 2; Kentucky Enquirer, August 1, 1976; Catholic Telegraph (August 15, 1895, p. 5 and July 16, 1896, p. 5.

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