The parish of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus at Southgate was canonically erected by Bishop Howard of the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1927. The new parish was formed from portions of the parishes of St. Thomas, Ft. Thomas; St. Vincent de Paul, Clifton; and St. Francis de Sales, Cote Brilliante. Reverend F. Borgias Lehr, who had been pastor of St. John Parish, Carrollton, since 1919, was appointed pastor of the new parish, August 17, 1927.
In August of that year, property was purchased for church purposes on Alexandria Pike, formerly part of the Wiedemann Brewery interests. Work was begun immediately to convert the large building on the property, which previously had served as a pleasure resort known as “Old Heidelberg,” into a suitable place of worship and a parish school.
In the meantime an altar had been borrowed by the pastor from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd at Ft. Thomas, and the first Masses at the new site were offered by Father Lehr on Sunday, August 21, 1927, in the large wing to the rear of the building which formerly had housed bowling alleys, and which today constitutes St. Theresa Diocesan Shrine and Parish Church. The enthusiasm and appreciation of the new congregation was demonstrated by a large attendance at the first services. During the following weeks, the section of the building designated for the church was suitably equipped to accommodate three hundred and fifty persons, and the large front section was remodeled into a three-room school on the first floor, with a pastor’s residence on the second floor. The parish school, which opened in the fall of 1927, under the care of the Sisters of St. Benedict, began with an enrollment of seventy-four pupils. On October 2, 1927, Bishop Howard dedicated the New St. Theresa Church and School. By the time that the first anniversary of the parish was observed, September 8, 1928, the growth of the parish had exceeded all expectation.
On October 3, 1927, on the occasion of the first observance of the Feast of the Little Flower in the new church, Bishop Howard declared the new church a Diocesan Shrine of the Little Flower. Thereafter, there were inaugurated at the Diocesan Shrine a perpetual Novena in honor of the Little Flower, and five annual special Novena services, including the annual Solemn Novena in anticipation of the Patronal Feast, October 3, which has become especially popular through the years, drawing hundreds of devotees of the Little Flower to the Southgate Shrine from the parishes of Northern Kentucky. Shortly prior to the erection of St. Theresa Parish, a National Society of the Little Flower had been established in this country, the Carmelite Church of St. Clara, Chicago, Illinois, being designated as the National Shrine. With the establishment of St. Theresa Shrine at Southgate, the Society of the Little Flower was established at the Covington Diocesan Shrine, and during the past quarter of a century it has recruited many members locally.
In the summer of 1928, Father Lehr, during a visit to Lisieux, France, secured from Mother Agnes de Jesus, the surviving sister of the Saint and prioress of the Community of Mt. Carmel at Lisieux, a first-class relic of Saint Theresa for the Southgate Shrine. At the closing services of the patronal-feat Novena, the following year (1929), Bishop Howard also presented the Shrine with two additional first-class relics, which likewise had been a gift from Mother Agnes, who had presented them to the Bishop when he had visited Lisieux during the early fall of 1929. A devotional feature of the Shrine are the twelve paintings by Leon Lippert, which adorn the walls on either side, depicting the life of the Little Flower.
During the parish’s formative years, Father Lehr gave personal care to the formation of parish organizations which would be closely linked with parish life, thereby developing an unusually well organized parish. By 1936, the school required larger quarters, necessitating the addition of two new classrooms. At that time also, the growth of the parish warranted the services of an assistant priest, and on September 26, 1937, Bishop Howard appointed Reverend John Schuler as the first assistant pastor of the parish. The sacristy addition to the church was constructed fin 1941. In 1944, Father Lehr secured the residence at the corner of Custis Avenue and Alexandria Pike, which serves as the present parish rectory, and at that time the pastor’s quarters on the second floor of the school building became the residence of the Sisters who were previously housed on Evergreen Avenue. On August 17, 1947, the congregation fittingly observed the twentieth anniversary of the establishing of the parish. A feature of the parish homecoming was the burning of the mortgage notes on the church property.
In 1951, with the Silver Jubilee of the parish one year off, Father Lehr announced plans for the development of the future parish plant. The new St. Theresa parish plant as envisioned by Father Lehr at that time would consist of a new church with a seating capacity of five hundred and fifty; a new school, with eight classrooms and an auditorium-gymnasium; rectory, and Sisters’ convent supplying living quarters for eleven Sisters. The erection of the school-convent section of the plant was decided on as the first undertaking. Ground-breaking for this building was held on August 5, 1951. On Sunday, May 4, 1952, Bishop Mulloy laid the cornerstone of the new school and convent, and on Sunday, January 4, 1953, the new building was dedicated. The old school building thereafter was razed, and a new front was built to the church.
The parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1952. The parish at present consists of about four hundred and ninety 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