The early history of the church at Dayton centers around the little town of Jamestown, where the first church was built. Later, the two towns, Jamestown and Brooklyn on the Ohio River were combined to form present Dayton. The first church at Dayton was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. When the present church was built in 1913, the name of the parish was changed, the church being dedicated under the patronage of St. Bernard.
In the latter 1840’s there were about forty Catholic families in Jamestown and vicinity, who were obliged to attend Mass at Corpus Christi Parish in Newport, or to cross the Ohio River to Cincinnati. In 1849, the little congregation formed a St. Joseph Society for the men and a St. Mary Society for the women, which had as their objectives the planning and erecting of a church in Jamestown. Two years later, a piece of property was bought, and the following year, 1853, the congregation was privileged to have the cornerstone of their proposed church laid by Bishop Martin J. Spalding of Louisville, who while on a visitation to Northern Kentucky visited Jamestown. By the end of June, 1854, a neat brick church, forty by sixty feet, was nearing completion. The first church in Jamestown (present Dayton), was dedicated under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi, on Sunday, July 9, 1854.
Although unable to send the congregation a resident pastor immediately on the completion of the church, Bishop Carrell, a few months later, assigned Reverend Michael Herzog as pastor of the new parish. Father Herzog found himself faced with the problem of erecting a pastoral residence and a school. In 1857, ill health forced Father Herzog to relinquish his pastorate at Jamestown. His successor, Reverend Charles Schaffroth, continued to develop the parish plant, and among other things purchased a tract of land to be used as a parish cemetery. On Sunday, May 1, 1858, Bishop Carrell administered Confirmation at St. Francis Church. In the afternoon, he blessed the parish cemetery, located on a hill about a quarter of a mile from town.
Father Schaffroth’s successor, Reverend Francis Grome, served St. Francis Parish for seventeen years from 1860 to 1877. Father Grome added three more lots to the church property. By 1865, the number of Catholic families in the community had reached one hundred and fifty, and there was need of larger church facilities. Father Grome, in the spring of 1866, began the erection of a new church at Dayton. Bishop Carrell dedicated the church on Sunday, September 23, 1866. At the close of Bishop Carrell’s episcopate, St. Francis Parish had about 1500 members, with two hundred children under instruction. During the latter part of the pastorate of Father Grome, the parish suffered from a complete financial failure.
During the eighteen year pastorate of Reverend Stephan Schmid, from 1886 to 1904, many improvements were made in the parish, including a new school building in 1888, and a new rectory in 1898. In 1904, Reverend Bernard Greifenkamp succeeded Father Schmid. In 1909, Father Greifenkamp laid the plans for a new church. The new church site purchased at that time consisted of a town block, bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues, and by Jackson and Berry Streets. On the property was a large double two-story brick building. Father Greifenkamp immediately began work on the foundation of the new church, the cornerstone being laid September 19, 1909. But because of the lack of funds, the construction of the church had to be discontinued. In 1913, a flood damaged the old St. Francis Church beyond profitable repair, likewise making it unsafe for use. The completion of the new church was in demand. With the permission of Bishop Maes, work on the superstructure was begun in July, 1913. The parish, because of its earlier financial distress, was at the time penniless. All the money necessary for the work had to be borrowed. Thus, the planned façade was not erected, but rather, a crude mission type of a front was constructed with the hope that in a few years a suitable façade might be erected. The church was dedicated on Sunday, August 23, 1914. Sixteen years passed. The urgent need of a new school had postponed the completion of the church.
With the permission of Bishop Howard, in 1929, the dream of the pastor and parishioners was brought to a reality. Plans were made for the construction of the present façade of St. Bernard Church. The mission front, a temporary structure, gave place to a stately Romanesque façade. The erection of the front completed the beautiful edifice which had been begun sixteen years previously. The old St. Francis Parish, a bankrupt parish, had ceased to exist in 1913. The new St. Bernard Parish, a financially sound and well-organized parish, became the pride of the Catholics of Dayton.
At the new location, school was first conducted in the church basement. The present modern school, situated behind the church, was erected in 1925. On the death of Father Greifenkamp, in 1931, Reverend Hubert Schmitz, the present pastor, was appointed to Dayton. Under the capable leadership of Father Schmitz, St. Bernard Parish has progressed spiritually and materially. The latest improvement to the parish plant was made in November, 1952, when three classrooms on the second floor of the school were remodeled into a convent for the Sisters of Divine Providence, who teach in the parish school. St. Bernard Parish today numbers about four 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