Saint Benedict Church and School
Plans for a Catholic parish in the Austinburg neighborhood can be traced back to the year 1883. On November 25, Father Aegidius Christoph O.S.B., Pastor of St. Joseph Parish, held a meeting to discuss such a project. A parcel of property was purchased on present day East 16th Street at the cost of $3,000 for the new venture. By 1884, the foundation of the new building had proceeded to the point that the cornerstone could be laid. This was accomplished on October 12, 1884. Bishop Rademacher of Nashville, Tennessee conducted the ceremonies. The new two-story combination church and school building was dedicated by Bishop C.P. Maes on July 25, 1885. The initial congregation consisted of 80 families.
Initially, St. Benedict was a mission parish of St. Joseph Parish at 12th and Greenup Streets. The Assistant Pastor of St. Joseph, Father Cyril Rettger O.S.B. attended to the needs of the Austinburgers. The parish school was opened in 1885 under the care of the Sisters of St. Benedict from St. Walburg Convent in Covington. That same year, Father Lambert Kettner O.S.B. was appointed the first Pastor of St. Benedict Parish.
St. Benedict Parish and School steadily grew throughout the 1880s and 1890s. By 1898, the original combination church and school had become inadequate. The only solution to the problem was to construct a permanent church building. A fund for this project was established in 1898. The architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford and Sons of Cincinnati was chosen to design the new building which was to be located on East 17th Street. The cornerstone of the new church was set into place on September 22, 1907 and dedicated during in December 1908. The festivities at the dedication included an English sermon given by Bishop Maes and a sermon in the German language given by Father Gabriel Schaller O.S.B. The music for the celebration was provided by the choir of Mother of God Parish. The new church was build of orange colored brick and featured two towers, each topped by a cupola. The $60,000 structure included seating for 600. At this time, the old combination building on East 16th was remodeled to accommodate the growing school enrollment.
In 1913, the parish constructed a rectory on the east side of the church building. The original rectory was then remodeled to serve as a convent for the Benedictine Sisters who taught in the school. The congregation continued to grow, and in 1918, the first assistant pastor was assigned to the parish.
Construction on a new parish school was begun in 1922 on East 16th Street. The new two-story brick schoolhouse with basement was ready for occupancy at the beginning of the 1922-1923 school-year. The building contained 10-classrooms a gymnasium/auditorium, library, office and club rooms for the parish societies. Space was also set aside to the establishment of a two-year commercial high school. St. Benedict Commercial High School continued operation until its closing in 1954. Total cost of construction amounted to $120,000. In 1926, school enrollment reached 436. A modern brick convent was constructed on the Westside of the school in 1927.
The congregation weathered the Great Depression with careful spending. By 1941, the economic condition of the parish had improved to such an extent that $10,000 was spent on redecorating the interior of the church. During the Second World War, three sons of the parish made the supreme sacrifice.
By 1947, St. Benedict Parish counted 500 families on its membership rolls with 353 students in the school. Shifting demographics in Northern Kentucky, however, would have a great impact on the parish. Many parishioners were moving from the Austinburg neighborhood for the suburbs. These departures were not initially felt due to the post-war baby boom. By the early 1960s, however, membership and school enrollment began declining.
The interior of the church was again remodeled in 1970. The interior was simplified with the removal of the original high and side altars and the introduction of a modern color scheme. The cost of the renovation reached the sum of $60,000 – the cost to build the original structure in 1907-1908.
School enrollment continued to decline as the Catholic population of Austinburg continued the flight to the suburbs. By 1971, enrollment stood at little more than 200. Six years later in 1977, and only 125 pupils were enrolled at St. Benedict School. The year 1977 was also marked by the departure of the Sisters of St. Benedict from the school. In 1988, St. Benedict School and nearby Bishop Howard School were merged to form the new Holy Family Elementary School. Holy Family School became the joint responsibility of St. Benedict Parish, the Cathedral and Our Savior Parish. The new school was housed in the former St. Benedict School building on East 16th Street.
Joseph Gastright, “St. Benedict Parish” in A Heritage of Downtown Churches, published by the Kenton County Historical Society, 1987; Kentucky Post, December 16, 1908, p. 2 and May 4, 1923, p. 1; Daily Commonwealth, October 10, 1884 and October 11, 1884.