St. Joseph Parish

Shortly after the arrival of Bishop Carrell in Covington, the Bishop recognized the need of a parish in the southeast portion of Covington, then known as Helentown, which was densely populated with German Catholics. In November, 1853, with the permission of Bishop Carrell, eighty members of Helentown, under the direction of Father Kuhr, purchased property adjoining Twelfth and Greenup Streets, measuring 125 x 178 feet. This property was a portion of a plot of land, 178 x 296 feet, formerly owned by the Western Theological Baptist Institute, situated in the city block bounded by Twelfth, Scott, Bush and Greenup Streets. Later this entire plot was procured by St.Joseph Parish and the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Convent.

 A small frame house on the property was used at first as a school for the children. In the summer of 1854, ground was broken on the lots at the corner of Twelfth and Greenup Streets for a church. The foundation of the church was completed by the early part of October, and on Sunday, October 29, 1854, Father Kuhr, in the absence of Bishop Carrell, blessed the cornerstone. But the lack of funds at that time caused an indefinite discontinuance of the construction of the church. In the meantime, the Catholics of Helentown undertook the erection of a combination church and school on a lot thirty-four by seventy feet, fronting on Twelfth Street, the dedication of this building under the patronage of St. Joseph taking place in 1855.

 On December 20, 1856, Bishop Carrell assigned Reverend Andrew Schweiger, of Four Mile, as first pastor of the new parish, but Father Schweiger’s pastorate lasted only for a short time. During the next few years, 1857-1859, the Bishop could not give the new parish a regular pastor, as the demands of the Diocese were great, and he had all too few priests.

 In January, 1858, Bishop Carrell appealed to the Very Reverend Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., Abbot of St. Vincent Monastery, Beatty, Pennsylvania, to take charge of the newly founded St. Joseph Church, entreating him to establish a Benedictine Priory in the city of Covington. Abbot Wimmer conceded to the appeal of Bishop Carrell, and the following month two able missionaries, the Reverends Oswald Moosmueller and Romanus Hell were sent to Covington. The two Benedictine Fathers arrived in Covington on February 13, 1858, their first residential quarters being on the second floor of the combination church and school building on Twelfth Street.

 With the increasing number of Catholic families settling in Helentown, by May of the same year, it became apparent to Father Oswald that the church facilities of the combination church and school were wholly inadequate to serve the growing parish. Accordingly, he decided to go forward with a new church (the present church), on the foundation which had been completed four years previously. By June, work was begun on the new building. The work was carried on energetically during 1858 and was taken up again in the spring of 1859. When completed, the new St. Joseph Church, Romanesque in architectural style, standing about eight feet above the street level, at the northwest corner of Twelfth and Greenup Streets, with its one hundred and twenty-eight foot tower, held a commanding position in southeast Covington. Bishop Carrell solemnly blessed the new St. Joseph Church in August, 1859.

 With the erection of the new church, the former combination church and school building on Twelfth Street was then used exclusively for school purposes. Benedictine Sisters from Erie, Pennsylvania, were at that time introduced into the Diocese by Bishop Carrell, and placed in charge of the St. Joseph Parish school. Men lay teachers were engaged for the larger boys.

 Early in 1860, Reverend Oswald Moosmueller relinquished his charge of St. Joseph Parish to engage in missionary work in the outlying mission field of Northern Kentucky. His successor at St. Joseph Parish was the Reverend Louis Fink, O.S.B., later Bishop of Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1862, Reverend Odilo von der Green, O.S.B., was sent to Covington to take charge of the parish. Father Odilo, through the Altar Building Company of Brother Cosmas Wolf, O.S.B., established on Bush Street, Covington, placed in the St. Joseph Church the present altars, so well adapted in harmony with the style and architecture of its interior. When Reverend Celestine Engelbrecht, O.S.B., succeeded Father Odilo von der Green in the fall of 1864, he immediately turned his attention to more adequate school facilities for the parish. Two lots were acquired on Twelfth Street, between Greenup and Garrard Streets.

 In 1870, under the direction of Reverend Lambert Kettner, O.S.B., a three-story brick building was erected on the newly acquired lots of Twelfth Street, the building becoming commonly known as the Boys’ School. The following year, 1871, Father Lambert built the present Priory. During 1877-1878, the famous bell and block tower of St. Joseph Church with a campanile one hundred and ten feet high, consisting o0f a belfry and a spacious room above it for a tower clock, was erected. Between 1875-1879, Johann Schmitt, the renowned artist, produced two highly artistic paintings of St. Joseph, inspired by the heroic efforts of the German Catho9lics to resist the ruthless persecutions carried on by Bismarck, and wishing to express the trials and triumph of His Holiness, Pius IX. The artist later painted copies of these pictures on the side walls of the spacious sanctuary of St. Joseph Church. On the Epistle side was painted St. Joseph, represented as the Patron Saint of the dying, and on the Gospel side, St. Joseph was depicted as the powerful Protector of the Universal Church. 

From 1879-1887, Reverend Aegidius Christoph, O.S.B., an able administrator, was pastor of St.; Joseph Parish. The pastorate of Father Aegidius produced wonderful achievements in the advancement of the parish, spiritually and materially. Although St. Joseph Parish suffered a considerable loss of money from investments in real estate during the Financial Panic of 1880, which brought many churches, religious and secular institutions, as well as private citizens, near bankruptcy in Cincinnati, Covington, and vicinity, Father Aegidius is remembered as saving St. Joseph Parish from “imminent financial ruin.” In 1885, Father Aegidius with the permission of Bishop Maes, engaged the Brothers of Mary, of Dayton, Ohio, to take charge of the parish Boys’ school. With his health gradually undermined by his energetic life, death came to Father Aegidius, on March 7, 1887. Having been at first interred in the old Mother of God Cemetery, a year later, with the permission of Bishop Maes, his remains were transferred to St. Joseph Church and laid to rest in a specially constructed vault near his confessional on the Gospel side, marked with a marble tablet.  During the pastorate of Reverend Michael

Hofmeyer, O.S.B., additional property measuring 25 x 100 feet, was secured by the parish on Twelfth Street, adjoining the Boys’ school, extending the parish property at that site from Twelfth Street to Trevor Street.

 In preparation for the Golden Jubilee of the parish, and the Solemn Consecration of St. Joseph Church, Reverend Rhabanus Gutmann, O.S.B., made extensive renovation in the church. This double celebration took place on July 16, 1905, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost. On this occasion, Bishop Maes officiated at the ceremonies of Consecration, which were followe3d by a Pontifical Mass offered by Right Reverend Abbot Leo Haid, O.S.B., Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina. During 1910, ten large beautiful art stained-glass windows were installed in the church, the windows on the Epistle side depicting scenes of the life of St. Benedict, and those on the Gospel side illustrating the life of the Holy Family.

 Reverend Ulrich Regnat, O.S.B., during his pastorate at St. Joseph Parish, was confronted with extraordinary problems. Among other things, the church was seriously damaged during the tornado of July 7, 1915. The terrific tornado completely demolished the upper section of the massive church tower; the huge tower was literally lifted from its base and hurled below to Greenup Street. The present new tower, the clock house representing a gigantic parlor clock surmounted by graceful pillars, carrying the cupola, was erected in 1915; the tower clock, with its huge dials, was installed by Christmas of 1916.

 During the years 1918-1922, the property on Scott Street, between Twelfth and Bush Streets, was acquired for a new school site. Five years later, in the summer of 1927, plans were made for the erection of the new parish school. On Sunday, September 4, 1927, the cornerstone for the new school was laid by Very Reverend Joseph A. Flynn, V.G. On July 29, of the following year, the present St. Joseph School was blessed by the Very Reverend Pius Blum, O.S.B., pastor of the parish. In the summer of 1952, under the direction of Reverend Lucian Malich, O.S.B., the historic Benedictine Church of Covington underwent extensive redecoration. At that time, perma-stone was laid over the brick exterior of the church, giving the church its present attractive appearance. The parish today has three hundred and twenty-five 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