Sacred Heart Parish
In 1870, the fast growing little town of Bellevue on the Ohio River, east of Newport and separated from it by Taylor Creek, was incorporated as a town, having at that time a population of three hundred and eighty-one inhabitants. In those days, the Catholics of the little community, consisting of about an equal number of families of German and Irish extraction, attended Mass at St. Stephen Church, New port. The distance to church and unimproved roads proved a definite handicap. For some time more progressive members of the small congregation had been agitating the question of building a church, but it was not until the early part of 1873, that any definite steps were taken.
The beginning of the history of Sacred Heart Parish, the first parish in the city of Bellevue, dates back to Sunday, February 2, 1873, when a number of Catholic men of the town held a meeting “for the purpose of organizing a society, whose object would be to raise the necessary funds to acquire a suitable site and to erect thereon a church for the Catholics of Bellevue.” Once this initial step was taken, enthusiasm mounted. Meetings were held regularly, the first meeting places being the homes of Louis Disz and Francis M. Schmitt, and later on, the old fire-engine house on Center and Lafayette Streets. Although at first including both married and single men, the organization eventually became known as the St. Joseph Married Men’s Society of Bellevue. The charter members were: Bernard Pleimann, Henry Rohde, Louis Disz, John Junk, Christopher Benedix, William Elben, George Geiger, Conrad Schwartz, Peter Sternjacob, Anthony Krebs, Henry Bickers, G.H. Echtermann, Michael Geiger, George Benedix, John Geiger, Bernard Mohs, Andrew L. Disz, John Taphorn, Joseph Becker, Jr., John Legner, Francis M. Schmitt, William Weber, August Fuchs, John Wettstein, Joseph H. Krogmann, Nicholas Leuthner, Henry Quaing, James Devaney, John Kearns, A.J. Mosset, Michael Garvey, Patrick Mulhaney, Michael Fitzgerald, Patrick Gillivan and Patrick Mullin.
The married ladies of Bellevue, in the early part of 1873, also formed an organization known as the Married Ladies’ Society of Bellevue. At a meeting held in the home of Francis M. Schmitt, March 9, 1873, Bishop Toebbe was present and gave permission for the building of a church. The following month, two lots facing Division Street were purchased, having a frontage of about one hundred and twelve feet, and a depth of one hundred and forty-two feet. A census of the Catholics of Bellevue, in 1874, showed that there were for5ty Catholic families in the town, including one hundred adults and ninety-two children, forty-seven of whom were of school age. At a meeting in Bellevue, July 26, 1874, over which Bishop Toebbe presided, a Building Committee was chosen, and it was decided to erect a one-story brick building to serve as a temporary church and school. Work was begun shortly afterwards, and on September 6, the cornerstone was laid by the Bishop. On November 22, 1874, the new church was dedicated under the patronage of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
As Bishop Toebbe had a shortage of priests, he could not give Bellevue a resident pastor at that time. Thus, he requested the Provincial of the Passionist Fathers at Mount Adams, Cincinnati, to send a priest to administer to the spiritual needs of the Bellevue congregation. From December, 1874, to October, 1875, Reverend Stanislaus Parezyk, C.P., exercised the pastorate, with the aid of other Passionist Fathers as occasional substitutes. In January, 1875, the parish school was opened with an enrollment of about fifty pupils, under the care of the Sisters of Notre Dame, which Order had been introduced into the Diocese the previous year. The first teachers of the school were Sister Mary Bonifacia, S.N.D., Sister Mary Dorothea, S.N.D., and Sister Mary Ludgardis, S.N.D. In October, 1875, Bellevue received its first resident pastor in the person of Reverend Bernard H. Hillebrand, a native of Brilon, Germany, who had become affiliated with the Diocese the previous May.
In 1876, owing to the increasing number of school children, it was found necessary to enlarge the church and school building. Another story was added to the structure, being completed July 10, 1876. From that time the upper story was used for church purposes and the lower floor as the school. During the first sixteen years of its history, the congregation had witnessed a steady growth, its membership having been continuously augmented by German Catholic families from older parishes located in Cincinnati, especially from Holy Trinity, St. Mary, St. Philomena and St. Paul Parishes. By 1890, the steady influx of Catholic families had increased the congregation about five times its original forty families. At that time, more ample church and school facilities were needed than the combination building could offer. Father William Cassander, the pastor, on presenting the problem to Bishop Maes, readily received permission to erect a new church. Ground was broken in the summer of 1892, the cornerstone being laid by Bishop Maes, September 25, 1892.
A year later, the present Gothic church, gracing the corner of Division Street and Taylor Avenue, was ready for divine services, and was solemnly dedicated on October 2, 1893, by Bishop Maes. Two years later, in the latter part of May 1895, Father Cassander was transferred from Sacred Heart Parish, being succeeded by Reverend William Hinssen whose pastorate extended over the next twenty-two years. The immediate concern of Father Hinssen was the school problem. After the erection of the church, the former combination church and school building had been given over exclusively to school purposes, but its facilities had become inadequate. Because of the church debt hanging over the congregation at the time, Father Hinssen decided on erecting a temporary frame school house to accommodate the pupils of the higher grades. By August, 1897, a two-story frame building was completed. By 1899, the pastoral duties of the parish had increased considerably, and in that year Bishop Maes appointed Reverend George Anthony Goebel, a newly ordained priest, as the first assistant pastor of the parish. At the March 13, 1904, meeting of the Board of Trustees of the parish, Father Hinssen and the Trustees decided to purchase a suitable location for a new parish school. The lot on the northwest corner of Taylor Avenue and Division Street, having a frontage of one hundred and twenty feet on Taylor Avenue with a depth of about one hundred and twelve feet on Division Street, was selected as a desirable site, and purchased. In December, 1908, the Williams property adjoining the new school site, which offered an additional frontage of thirty feet on Taylor Avenue, with the same depth as the other property, was likewise acquired. On July 24, 1914, the cornerstone for the new school, facing Taylor Avenue, was laid by Father Hinssen. On April 11, 1915, Bishop Maes solemnly blessed the present light-brown, pressed brick structure, trimmed with Bedford stone.
During the tornado of July 7, 1915, which swept through northern Kentucky, the beautiful Gothic tower of the church was twisted out of shape, and had to be removed, being replaced by the present cupola construction. Towards the end of 1916, Father Hinssen’s health began to fail, his death occurring March 26, 1917. On April 18, Reverend Aloysius J. Roell was appointed his successor. In the early part of January, 1923, Father Roell began plans for extensive alterations and improvements on the church, in anticipation of the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the parish the following year. The exterior of the church was finished in imitation Indiana sandstone; three new entrances and a vestibule were built to the front of the church. In 1924, the interior of the church was renovated. Pictures depicting scenes from the life of Christ, the work of Leon Lippert, were placed on the walls above the wainscoting.
The present artistic hand-carved main altar, with its lavish Gothic design and gold ornamentation, rising to a height of thirty-three feet, with a width of sixteen feet, was imported from the Austrian Tyrol and installed in the church. New Stations were imported from Dusseldorf, Germany. At the time of the celebration of the Golden Jubilee in 1924, the newly decorated Sacred Heart Church was a scene of magnificent splendor. Right Reverend Monsignor Carl J. Merkle, the present pastor, succeeded Father Henry J. Heringhaus as pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, on September 17, 1934. Sacred Heart Parish today numbers five hundred families.
excerpted from History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953, by Rev. Paul E. Ryan