St. John the Baptist
The account of the first beginnings of the present St. John the Baptist Parish, John’s Hill, constitutes a part of the history of the pioneer German Catholic settlements in rural Campbell County, prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. At the time that Father Boeswald took up residence in Newport, as the first resident pastor of Campbell County, and when the Four Mile Creek German Settlement was raising the second church in Campbell County, a little group of nine Catholic families from southern Germany, who had settled at the present site of John’s Hill, was eagerly seeking the consolation of religion. This group consisted of the families of Simon Burkhardt, Xavier Koss, John Lahner, Adam Reiel, Ignatz Ruschman, Adam Seibert, Jacob Sendelbach, Lawrence Weingartner, and a Steffney family. In 1847, a log house was erected where the priest from Newport might offer Mass. “Mount Saint John” soon became one of the German stations attended by the pastor of Newport. When the Diocese was formed, Mass was being offered there on the fourth Sunday of the month by Father Voll. The reports furnished by Bishop Carrell for the Catholic Directories during the early years of the Diocese referred to Mount Saint John, Campbell County, as having a “German church, not blessed.” The German portion of the congregation was attended by Reverend John Voll of Newport, and the English portion was attended by a priest from the Cathedral at Covington.
The first log church, erected in 1847, was located on the present John’s Hill road. During the succeeding ten years, it likewise served as a school. On June 24, 1857, lightning struck this humble place of worship and it burned to the ground. Until another building could be erected, the Catholics of John’s Hill were obliged to attend Mass in Newport. School was temporarily conducted in the home of John Eligh.
A few months later, this little congregation began the erection of a new stone church, thirty by fifty feet, at a more central location. The church committee, appointed by Bishop Carrell, consisted of Adam Seibert, Ignatz Ruschman and Lawrence Weingartner, all three having been pioneer settlers. The plans called for a two-story structure with a steeple surmounting the façade. The first floor was to serve as a school, and the second floor, at the entrance level, was to serve as the church. On April 25, 1858, Bishop Frederick Baraga, of Sault Sainte Marie, officiated at the laying of the cornerstone. By November of that year, the new church was completed, and on November 25, 1858, Bishop Carrell officiated at its dedication.
During the next eighteen years, St. John Congregation retained the status of a mission. When the Benedictine Fathers of Covington extended their missionary work throughout the northern part of the Diocese, John’s Hill was one of the missions which Bishop Carrell placed under their care. Mass was then offered twice a month for the congregation.
In January, 1877, Bishop Toebbe appointed Reverend Anthony Athmann, a young priest ordained the previous year, as the first resident pastor. The parish rectory, erected at that time, consisted of a one-story brick structure located at the entrance of the cemetery. The congregation enjoyed a resident pastor until 1891. During the next three years it was a mission attached to Corpus Christi Parish, Newport. In 1894, Reverend Henry B. Gellenbeck was appointed pastor.
During the pastorate of Reverend Bernard Baumeister, 1895-1903, the condition of the parish property was much improved. Among other things, a stone wall was built around the property towards the Licking Pike and the cemetery, with stone steps leading up to the church and rectory. In 1900, the church was frescoed and a picture of St. John the Baptist was painted on the center of the ceiling. Father Baumeister’s successor, Reverend Thomas Ott, built al new parish rectory in 1907. On November 26, 1908, the Golden Jubilee of the erection of the present St. John Church was solemnly observed by the parish, under the direction of Reverend Charles Diemer, who had been appointed pastor the preceding year. The stained-glass window over the altar was installed to commemorate the occasion.
From the very beginning, the pioneer settlers had provided a school for the education of their children. On August 22, 1909, Father Diemer engaged the Sisters of Notre Dame of Covington to conduct the parish school. The first Sisters of Notre Dame at John’s Hill were Sisters Fabiana, Edith and Blandina. That same year, Forty Hours’ devotion was introduced into the life of the parish.
In 1910, with the renovation of the church, stained-glass memorial windows were installed and an oil painting of the Holy Family, a work of Leon Lippert, was presented to the parish by the artist. Within the next two years a more suitable residence for the Sisters was erected on a plot of ground adjoining the church lot. Through the efforts of Reverend Walter A. Freiberg, pastor from 1928 to 1931, an eight-acre plot of land in the Maple Park Subdivision was acquired for the future use of the parish. On July 1, 1931, Reverend Francis R. Mielech, the present pastor, was appointed to St. John’s. On Sunday, October 1, 1933, under his direction, the Diamond Jubilee of St. John Church was celebrated, Bishop Howard officiating.
The ninety-five year old church, in which the parishioners worship today, is truly an historic monument that speaks to us of the early days of the history of the Diocese. The parish has remained a rural congregation. The parishioners for the most part are engaged in agriculture and dairying. The size of the parish has remained practically the same throughout its history, at time showing increase, at times decrease in the number of families. Today the congregation consists of seventy-six 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