Saint John Catholic Church and School
The early Catholics of Lewisburg organized the St. Aloysius School Society in 1848 as a means to raise funds to establish a school in their community. These German Catholic families attended Mother of God Parish on West 6th Street. Soon thereafter, the people acquired a parcel of property at the corner of Leonard and Worth Streets in Lewisburg. On these lots, the people decided to construct a school, which was placed under the patronage of Sts. Peter and Paul. In 1849, a small schoolhouse stood on this property. The teacher was a seminarian named Joseph Weiger.
The successful completion of the school encouraged the people to request the establishment of a parish in Lewisburg. Bishop George Aloysius Carrell gave his permission. Construction on the church began immediately, and by Palm Sunday April 9, 1854, the time had arrived to lay the cornerstone. The impressive ceremonies included a large procession, bands and an address by Father Hengehold, pastor of St. Philomena Church in Cincinnati. In December of that same year, Father Joseph Theresius Gezowski was appointed the first resident pastor.
As the walls of the new church reached the roofline, Father Ferdinand Kuhr of nearby Mother of God Parish suggested that the new parish be named St. John. Parish legend has Father Kuhr stating, “You are children of Mother of God and your new church should be placed under the protection of her adopted son, St. John.” The parishioners received the suggestion with great joy. The completed Gothic Revival building measured 60 x 90’ and sported tower with a steeple reaching 150’ into the sky. The unfinished building (the floor had not been laid) was dedicated on December 27, 1854. The congregation at this time consisted of 80 German Catholic families.
The parishioners worked diligently to improve the parish facilities. In 1862 a pipe organ was installed in the balcony of the church. At the same time, a shrine to Our Lady of Mount Carmel was acquired. The statute for the shrine was imported from Munich. In 1866, a new rectory was constructed and a large piece of property was acquired in Fort Mitchell to serve as a parish cemetery.
The parish school advanced greatly in the early days of the parish. In 1861, a new brick schoolhouse was constructed. Five years later, Father Andreas Michel arranged for the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana to teach in the schools. By the 1870s, St. John parish sponsored two schools, one for boys and one for girls. The Sisters of St. Francis taught the girls and laymen taught the boys. The Sisters of Notre Dame replaced the Franciscans in 1876.
During the pastorate of Father William Robbers (1879-1903), many improvements were made to the parish plant. A new sanctuary was added to the church building in 1882. At this same time, the boys’ school received a two-classroom addition and several rooms were added to the rectory. In 1889, the interior of the church was repainted, new altars and a pulpit were installed and the sanctuary floor and aisles were covered with marble. Covington artist Johan Schmitt painted five large murals in the sanctuary at this time. The theme of these murals was the life of Christ.
By the early years of the Twentieth Century, the church building was experiencing significant deterioration. The building had been constructed on a hill, and over time, the shifting of the ground had caused the walls of the nave to move. One side was nine inches out of plumb and other side eleven inches. The decision to build a modern parish plant at a new location was made at this time. In 1908, property was acquired on the south side of Pike Street and fundraising was begun.
On March 1, 1909, Father Antony Goebel was appointed pastor of St. John Parish. Father Goebel pushed ahead the plans to build a new church and school on the Pike Street property. In 1913, work constructing a new combination church, school, convent and rectory building began. This large brick building was dedicated on December 27, 1914 and cost $50,000 to construct. The building housed classrooms and an auditorium (temporary church seating 600) on the first floor and classrooms, living quarters for the pastor and living quarters for the sisters on the second floor.
The next phase in the development of the parish was to construct a permanent church and rectory. In June 1922, ground was broken. The new church was completed in 1924 at a cost of $250,000. Dedication ceremonies were held on November 24, 1924. St. John Church was designed by the renowned German-American Architectural firm of Ludewig & Dreisoerner of St. Louis. The German Gothic Revival building was 163’ long and 64’ wide. The steeple rose 163’ over Pike Street. The interior featured a beautifully decorated wood ceiling, hand carved Italian marble altars, and a number of art-glass windows from the firm of Dr. Oidtmann of Linnich, Germany.
The development of new suburbs on the Dixie Highway south of Lewisburg initially boosted parish and school enrollment. However, in 1930, Bishop Francis Howard established St. Agnes Parish on the Dixie Highway in Fort Wright. The creation of St. Agnes ended any hopes of expanding the territory attached to St. John Parish and School.
Father Goebel led the parish frugally through the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War. The close of the war brought a tremendous amount of change to the parish and the Lewisburg neighborhood. Returning serviceman began to marry in record numbers beginning in 1945. In the following year, the St. John Credit Union was established to help parishioners save money to purchase homes and start new families.
Monsignor Anton Goebel died on January 6, 1954. He had been pastor of St. John Parish for 44 years. His successor, Monsignor Henry Hanses, was Monsignor Goebel’s nephew.
The baby boom that followed the war began to have an impact on St. John School enrollment in the early 1950s. At this time, the Sisters of Notre Dame who taught in the school were living in several makeshift accommodations. The sisters had several small rooms on the second floor of the school and they occupied a large dormitory style bedroom on the third floor. In 1956, the parish arranged for the installation of an air-cooler and for the construction of an additional bathroom in the sisters quarters. By 1960, school enrollment reached 392.
The interior of the church was re-frescoed in 1960. Father Henry Hanses arranged for local artist Nino L. Passalacqua to complete the work. The cost of the improvement reached nearly $20,000.00. The 1960s also witnessed the elevation of one of St. John’s own to the episcopacy. In 1963, Father Edward Fedders M.M., a former parishioner of St. John, was appointed bishop of a missionary diocese in Peru. Fedders was one of many vocations to the priesthood and religious life that sprung from the Lewisburg congregation.
By the late 1960s, the Lewisburg neighborhood had begun to experience significant change. Many families moved from the area to the new suburbs located to the south of Covington. Catholics, in particular, left the neighborhood in large numbers. As a result, the population of the area began to fall. As a result, the number of parishioners at St. John began a steady decline.
During the 1970s and 1980s, enrollment at St. John School also declined sharply. In 1965, the number of pupils in attendance dropped to 357. Five years later, the number had declined to 243. By 1985, the number of pupils enrolled at the school stood at 143. In order to keep a viable school in the neighborhood, the parishioners of St. John cooperated with surrounding congregations. This cooperation led to the creation of the inter-parochial Prince of Peace School in 1986. Prince of Peace was located in the former St. John School building. The new school was sponsored by St. John, St. Ann and Mother of God Parishes in Covington and Sts. Boniface and James Parish in nearby Ludlow. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame and lay teachers.
Continued declining population in Covington led to more changes in the 1990s. In 1999, the nearby Parish of St. Ann in West Covington was made a mission of St. John Parish. The new pastor, Father Douglas Fortner, took care of the needs of both congregations. During that same year, St. John parishioners celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of the dedication of the handsome church building.
Catholic Telegraph, April 15, 1854; Kampsen, Leo, Old Saint John Church, Contained in the Papers of the Christopher Gist Historical Society, 1952; Dedication Souvenir of St. John Church, Covington, Kentucky; Centennial Souvenir, St. John Church, Covington, Kentucky, 1954; Diamond Anniversary 1924-1999 Souvenir, St. John Church, Covington, Kentucky.