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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.