The Town of Florence, originally known as Maddenstown, was later called Connersville. On June 27, 1830, the name of Connersville was changed by an Act of the Legislature, which incorporated the town under the name of Florence.
An early Catholic settler who became an instrument under Divine Providence for the establishment of the Catholic Church at Florence was Cornelius Ahern. Cornelius Ahern was a native of New Market, County Cork, Ireland. He came to America at an early age and lived for some years in Canada. He settled at Florence in 1851, where he reared a large family. Cornelius Ahern was a staunch Catholic, and at all times a "defender of the Faith." He died in October, 1886, at the age of seventy-two.
When Cornelius Ahern came to Florence in 1851, he found only two Catholic families in the little village, Mrs. Scott, the wife of the village doctor, and Mr. and Mrs. Ferneding, who kept one of the village taverns. Mr. Ahern contacted Father Thomas R. Butler, pastor of St. Mary Church, Covington, and requested that he would go to Florence and offer Mass. It was in the latter part of 1851, when Father Butler journeyed to Florence to offer Mass for the Catholics of the village. Word was spread abroad that the priest would be there, and the gathering proved to be larger than had been expected. Catholic people of Boone County, hearing that Mass was going to be said at Florence, travelled as far as fifteen miles from Taylorsport and other places to attend. This was the beginning of the Church at Florence. Father Butler arranged to go to Florence every three months and the village people received him very kindly. The hospitality of the Ahern home, which became the mission station, was always extended to those who came fasting or a long distance to hear Mass. Among the priests who offered Mass in the Ahern home, besides Father Butler, were Father Francis Di Maris, S. J., and Father Patrick Guilfoyle, as did Bishop Carrell on one or other occasion. Under the direction of Father Di Maria plans were begun for the erection of a church. Ezra K. Fish, a non-Catholic, on September 26, 1855, donated to the Catholics of Florence two lots on Shelby Street. In June of the following year, the congregation purchased from him another adjoining lot. In the meantime, the care of Florence was entrusted to Reverend John Force, who was a circuit missionary, and who travelled through a large portion of the Diocese.
Mr. Ahern, who was a stone mason, with the help of the men of the congregation, laid the foundation for a church. While the church was being built, some of the Know-Nothing party threatened to burn it down. On the night of the proposed event, Mr. Ahern, Mr. Dennedy and Mr. Collins, with twenty other members of the congregation, assembled at the church and remained all night to guard it.
The first Catholic church at Florence was a frame church, measuring twenty-five by forty feet. The steeple on the church arose to the height of about thirty feet. There were no pews, but only plain pine benches. The church was dedicated in June, 1856. Father Force said Mass once a month at the Florence mission. The early baptismal records of the congregation, from 1855 to 1861, are found in the records at Mt. Sterling. Among the pioneer Catholics of St. Paul Parish were Cornelius Ahern, James Dennedy, Martin Farrell, Joseph Sullivan, Andrew Collins, Thomas Golden, John Usher, Joseph Ferneding, Thomas Dorsey, Michael Carey, Mrs. Dr. Scott, Mrs. Fred Cull, Mrs. Fred Rich and Mrs. Henry Oelsner.
The first resident pastor appointed to the parish was Reverend Joseph J. Bent, in 1874. From the time of Father Force to the coming of Father Bent, the following priests cares for the mission at Florence--Reverends Lambert D. Willie, 1862; William T. D'Arcy, 1863; Adrian Egglemeers, 1864-65; Alto Hoermann, O.S.B., 1865; James McNerney, 1865-66; Lambert Young, 1867; John F. Van der Viele, 1867; George A. Watson, 1867-1869; John A. McGill, 1869; James W. Smith, 1869-1870; and J. F. Whelan, 1870-1874.
Father Bent lived in a brick house on the south side of Shelby Street, the first building off of Main Street. He built an addition to the church, and established the first school. His pastorate continued until 1877. When Florence was given a resident pastor, a number of missions were attached to the parish. The baptismal records indicate that the pastor of St. Paul Parish cared for New Liberty, Warsaw, Williamstown, Walton, Verona and Independence. As a result, during the early years of the history of the parish, Mass was said at St. Paul Church only once a month, the priest being obliged to attend the other missions on the other Sundays.
Shortly after his appointment to Florence, on September 1, 1904, Father William Kathman undertook the erection of the present brick church and pastor's residence. His successor, Father Thomas J. McCaffrey inaugurated the practice of saying two Masses on Sunday, one at Florence and one at Independence. In 1913, Father John F. O'Dwyer found it necessary to close the parish school. Ten years later, on September 10, 1923, Father Herbert J. Egbring, re-opened the parish school, under the care of the Sisters of St. Benedict, Sister Mary Irene, O.S.B., being in charge. In 1924, the interior of the church was decorated for the first time, and a new main altar was installed. The parish had enjoyed substantial growth, and by 1925 a new school building was necessary. On March 30, 1925, ground was broken for the new school, and on September 13 of the same year, Bishop Howard dedicated the school. The new school opened with an enrollment of forty-three pupils, with Sister Mary Irene, O.S.B., and Sister Mary Grace, O.S.B., as teachers.
In January, 1926, the old church building on Shelby Street was razed, the lumber being used to construct a large parish hall in the rear of the church.
Right Reverend Monsignor Edward W. Carlin, the present pastor, was appointed to Florence, on April 15, 1940. An event of historical interest to the rural parish was the blessing and installing of a bell in the parish church by Bishop Mulloy, on January 9, 1949. The present modern St. Paul Parish School was blessed by Bishop Mulloy on November 28, 1951.
The growth of St. Paul congregation has not been rapid, but it has been steady. The parish today has about one hundred and forty families.
by Rev. Paul E. Ryan, excerpted from his History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953.