St. Ann's Parish
In 1860, when St. Ann Parish was first organized, the little community of West Covington, then known as Economy, was sparsely settled, with modest frame homes of pioneer settlers, having a population of about five hundred. Before the village had a church or resident priest, catechism classes were taught by a Mr. Patrick Monahan. One evening a week it was customary for the Catholics of the village to meet at the home of a parishioner for the recitation of the rosary and prayers for the departed souls. This practice was the origin of the Purgatorial Society which exists in the parish today. The Catholics of Economy had to travel a long distance to Church. It meant going to St. Mary Cathedral on Eighth Street, in Covington, or to St. Patrick Church, in Cincinnati; the latter required a crossing of the Ohio River by means of the ferry. The first priest, of record, to have offered Mass in Economy, was the Reverend Thomas R. Butler, pastor of the Cathedral. In answer to a sick call, one Sunday morning, to the home of John Casey, Sr., on Short John Street, Father Butler took the requisites for offering Mass with him, and said Mass in the home of Patrick Callahan, next door to the home of the sick person. Father Butler became well aware of the difficulty facing the people of Economy in attending Mass. From that time on, until the completion of the first St. Ann Church in 1862, Mass was said regularly in the little one-story frame cottage of the Burns family, on the corner of High and Main Streets, which was rented for that purpose.
When a committee from Economy first called on Bishop Carrell, requesting that a parish be established there, Bishop Carrell hesitated to grant permission, feeling that they would not be able to support a pastor from their necessarily meager resources. At a second meeting with the committee some time later, the Bishop was favorably impressed by the committee’s report and gave permission for the building of a church. Economy and Ludlow Town at that time had many Catholics who had recently purchased lots to build homes, removed from the city. Many of these Catholics worked in Cincinnati, and some in Covington. The Fifth Street ferry boat from Cincinnati landed immediately opposite White Hall Tavern.
Ground for the church was donated by the Slevin family of Cincinnati. The first little St. Ann Church went up “by the light of the candle, lantern or the bright moon.” The Catholic men of the community, after a day’s work of ten or more hours, trudging home from central Cincinnati over the Suspension Bridge, or from the western section of Cincinnati by way of the old Fifth Street ferry, went to distant stone quarries at night to obtain the stone for the foundation. Under such conditions the stone was cut, the basement dug and the foundation laid.
On Sunday, June 3, 1860, Bishop Carrell, in the presence of a large gathering of the faithful from Covington and Newport, laid the cornerstone for the new church. A short time afterwards, the frame overhead structure was erected, but the means of the people did not permit the completion of the building at that time. It was not until several years later that the church, situated on a commanding ridge, was completed, being dedicated in honor of St. Ann, on Sunday, December 11, 1864. From March, 1862, until February, 1864, Reverend William T. D’Arcy, an assistant of the Cathedral, attended the congregation. These were years of the Civil War, and the poverty of the little congregation became even more distressing.
In 1864, Bishop Carrell appointed Reverend Adrian Egglemeers as the first resident pastor of St. Ann Parish. On his arrival at the parish, he found only a few Catholics and an unfinished church. During the twelve years of his pastorate, he completed the church, built a pastor’s residence, Sisters’ home, and a school. When he left St. Ann Parish in 1875, there was a large congregation, and the parish was in a progressive condition, with one hundred and fifty children in school.
Father Egglemeers first rented a cottage of John Clark, on David Street, where he resided for about two years. In 1865, he undertook the building of a two-story brick school, securing Sisters of the Order of St. Francis of Oldenburg, Indiana, as teachers. On the south side of the church, he likewise erected a brick cottage to serve as a rectory. The church, the school and the Sisters’ residence were blessed on Sunday, August 30, 1868. St. Ann Parish drew parishioners from the west end of Covington and Ludlow, sections where St. Patrick Parish, Covington, and St. James Parish, Ludlow, were later formed.
During his pastorate of fifteen years, 1888-1903, Reverend Louis G. Clermont, a French Canadian, did much for the improvement of St. Ann Parish. Among other things, he placed cathedral glass windows in the church. Through his efforts, too, relics of St. Ann were secured and the Shrine in honor of St. Ann was established in 1888. In that year, he obtained a relic from Rome. This relic was a fragment of a rock extracted from the room of St. Ann in Jerusalem. Three years later, June 16, 1891, he secured a more precious relic from St. Anne de Beaupre, Canada. This relic was a fragment of a finger bone of St. Ann, and was exposed for the first time to the veneration of the faithful, July 26, 1891. During the pastorate of Father Clermont, and thereafter, the church of St. Ann, in West Covington, became widely known for its shrine of St. Ann. Each year thousands of pilgrims from neighboring parishes in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati made their way to the West Covington Shrine for the novena in preparation for the feast of St. Ann, July 26. A special feature of the novena has come to be the procession on the closing night, when thousands of devotees of the Saint carry lighted candles through the streets of West Covington. With the departure of the Sisters of St. Francis from the parish in 1891, the Sisters of Divine Providence assumed charge of the parish school.
Father Clermont, as did his successors, Reverend Bernard A. Baumeister and Reverend Libert de Waegenaere, encountered much trouble and worry consequent upon the giving way of the front wall of the school building. After useless expenditures, it was torn down to make way for a new and more commodious structure, which was erected, by Father de Waegenaere in 1908. The new St. Ann School was dedicated by Bishop Maes, September 20, 1908. Father de Waegenaere likewise purchased a residence for the Sisters on the south side of the pastor’s residence, on the former Redmond property.
In 1910, the Golden Jubilee of St. Ann Parish was observed by the congregation under the direction of Reverend William B. Ryan. In the annals of the history of St. Ann Parish, Father Ryan’s pastorate, 1909-1917, is memorable for the spirit he built up in the parish, and especially for what he did in behalf of the young people of the parish. Among other things to build up the parish social life, Father Ryan fitted up a gymnasium and clubroom for the young people.
On October 1, 1917, Reverend Thomas B. Ennis succeeded Father Ryan, beginning a pastorate which continued for twenty-three years, up until November 24, 1940. In 1931, Father Ennis undertook the erection of the present St. Ann Church and Diocesan Shrine. The dismantling of the old St. Ann Church was begun in April, 1931, divine services being held in a temporary chapel in the school until the new edifice was ready for occupancy. On Sunday afternoon, August 30, Very Reverend Joseph A. Flynn, V.G., laid the cornerstone which had been the original cornerstone of the old St. Ann Church, laid in 1860. The new church was completed and solemnly dedicated on Sunday, June 19, 1932, by Bishop Howard.
In November, 1940, Reverend Joseph Deimling, the present pastor, was appointed to St. Ann Parish. The parish today numbers two hundred and ten families. This Centennial year of the Diocese marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the St. Ann Shrine in West Covington, and the annual Novena in honor of St. Ann.
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