Prior to 1890, the Catholics of Milldale, as the section now comprising Latonia was known, formed a part of the southern portion of St. Augustine Parish in Peaselburg. The pioneer Catholic settlers in Milldale, with the exception of a few Irish, were made up of immigrants from Germany. Realizing the hardships endured by the people of Milldale in frequenting St. Augustine Church and the dangers involved for the rising generation, Reverend Paul T. Abeln, pastor of St. Augustine Parish, heartily concurred when the project of erecting a church in the neighboring village was proposed. Bishop Maes assigned Father Abeln to the task of organizing the new congregation and erecting a church.
A building committee was appointed, and property was purchased on the west side of Church Street. The building committee consisted of John Albrink, James Butler, Joseph Buschelmann, John N. Weber, Peter Keller, Peter Dehlinger, Frank Haake, and J. Juelsmann. When the site of the new church was selected, remarkable vision and foresight was evinced. The original Holy Cross property, added to in after years, has proved to be the best, for its purposes, in the locality.
On Sunday, August 24, 1890, the cornerstone was laid for a two-story brick structure, seventy by forty-three feet, a combination church and school. When he was assured of the success of the undertaking, Father Abeln asked to be relieved of his new charge, and Bishop Maes, conceding to his request, at the beginning of December, 1890, appointed Reverend Bernard A. Baumeister as the first resident pastor of the Milldale congregation. Father Baumeister pushed the construction of the building as rapidly as possible so that the church would be far enough advanced for Mass on Christmas Day. This was accomplished and with permission of Bishop Maes, the first Mass in Holy Cross Church was celebrated December 25, 1890.
By spring of the following year, the new building was completed. The lower floor contained two large classrooms and living quarters for the pastor; the upper floor was furnished for church purposes, having a seating capacity of two hundred and fifty. On Sunday, May 3, 1891, Feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, Bishop Maes went to Milldale to dedicate the new Holy Cross Church. The parish at that time numbered forty-five families. In August, 1891, Benedictine Sisters arrived in the little valley town, as teachers of the parish school. Father Baumeister gave up his living quarters in the new building to the Sisters, and rented a home to serve as a rectory until September, 1892, when a parish rectory was completed. In November, 1896, Father Baumeister resigned from the pastorate and was succeeded by Reverend Joseph D. Meinzer, who remained pastor until the beginning of April, 1898.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 1898, Reverend John B. Reiter, a young priest, six years ordained, entered upon the duties of pastor, a pastorate which was to continue for thirty-four years. During the first eight years of its existence, the parish had grown from forty-five families to seventy-two. There had been no inducements for home-seekers in Milldale. The streets remained unimproved and modern conveniences were still lacking. But with incorporation in 1900 as a fourth-class city, Latonia, as it was then called, assuming the classical name of its celebrated spring, began to shake off its lethargy. Streets were built, sidewalks laid, water mains extended. Realtors began to buy up pastures and cornfields and hold public auctions. A small size boom followed and Latonia took on new growth. Catholics formed a large part of the incoming inhabitants, and Father Reiter saw the time fast approaching when the little church and two-room school would be inadequate. With the permission of the Bishop, he secured two pieces of property across the street from the rectory. These, with an adjoining lot donated by Mr. George Kimmel, gave a frontage of one hundred and fifty feet on the east side of Church Street, with an equal depth, providing ample room for the construction of a new church.
The need of a larger church and school was imperative, but Father Reiter was faced with a difficult problem. He could not expect too much from the growing parish; many of the members were young couples starting their homes on borrowed money. But when Father Reiter laid the problem before them, together they decided that the solution lay in building a new church. Ground was broken July 16, 1906, and the cornerstone laid, Sunday, November 22, 1906. In November, two years later (1908), the new church was ready for dedication. Mass was celebrated that morning for the last time in the old church. Latonia had come to realize that Holy Cross Parish meant much to the development of the community, and the community likewise made the day of the dedication of the new church one of civic celebration. On November 29, 1908, Bishop Maes dedicated the new Latonia church.
An overcrowded school had likewise been a problem of concern. By 1901, the original two rooms were inadequate, and a small building had been moved from one of the later acquired properties to take care of the overflow. Soon the three rooms were filled. Then the two-story house and the cottage on the Potter and Kimmel lots were joined to provide a residence for the Sisters, thus releasing their apartment in the church building for school rooms. But at the beginning of the 1913 school year, three hundred and fifty-four pupils registered and the situation could no longer be met by makeshift. Still at that time, the heavy debt on the church made the building of a new school impossible. However, a generous benefactor, whose name, at his request, was not revealed, made it possible to go forward with the erecting of the needed school. Ground was broken June 23, 1914, and on Sunday, August 23, 1914, the cornerstone was laid by Father Reiter. On Easter Monday, April 5, 1915, Bishop Maes, a little over a month before his death, blessed the present parish school and administered Confirmation. Saturday, December 25, 1915, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Holy Cross Parish, but the Silver Jubilee was not observed until May 7, 1916, with Bishop Brossart being present for the occasion. Later the overcrowded Sisters' house demanded attention, and it was decided to build a new rectory and convert the old one into a convent. The present rectory was built in 1924. A Catholic high school in Latonia, as elsewhere, had been a serious need. About this time, the pastor and people of Holy Cross decided to assume the burden involved, and erect a parish high school. The new high school was erected on the site of the old church building, and was opened for classes, September, 1930, under the care of the Benedictine Sisters.
A matter of concern to Father Reiter was the care of the young men whom the spring and fall meetings brought yearly to the Latonia race track. Colonel E. R. Bradley, the well-known turfman and philanthropist, shared the sympathy of Father Reiter in this regard. He set up in the recreation hall, which he had built at the track, an altar and Father Reiter began to gather together the Catholic boys and men for Sunday Mass. As the years passed, the good priest's life was being spent in the ministry of Holy Cross Parish. The little children he had baptized were now presenting their own children to him at the baptismal font. Automobiles filled Holy Cross square on Sunday mornings, where buggies and wagons once stood. Latonia was a prosperous community, and although annexed to Covington it never parted with its individuality. Then came the depression of the 30's. Men walked the streets looking for work. Many parishioners lost their homes. They sought refuge in tenements. Fortunes tumbled. Father Reiter, sixty-six years old, a kind, old, broken pastor, moved in his quiet way among the people of Latonia, a source of comfort and guidance to the community. The bank in which the church and many of the congregation had their diminishing savings closed its doors. Following this calamity was one greater. The beloved pastor of Holy Cross, who had been a guiding figure in Latonia for thirty-four years, stricken with pneumonia, was taken from their midst. On the morning of February 126, 1932, the bell of Holy Cross Church began to toll, announcing the death of Father Reiter to the grieved community. Pending the appointment of a new pastor, Bishop Howard appointed Reverend Ferdinand Valerius administrator of the parish.
On the second Sunday of June, 1932, Reverend Louis Fey, the present pastor, assumed his duties as pastor of Holy Cross Parish. Father Fey's pastorate has been characterized by an intense devotion to education. Through his direction the various departments of the high school have been steadily advanced, including the latest equipment for the science and typing departments, for musical education and the high school library. As a preparation for the approaching Golden Jubilee of the parish, in 1940, Father Fey envisioned many improvements for the parish, but the prolonged depression prevented many of them at that time. In 1940, the present Sisters' residence was erected.
During the first week of September, 1940, excavation was begun for the erection of the new Sisters' convent. The home at that time occupied by the Benedictine Sisters at Thirty-sixth and Church Streets had been enlarged three times during the past twenty years, and it was not deemed advisable to make further additions to it. Since its site was inadequate for the erection of a residence large enough to accommodate the twenty-six Sisters attached to Holy Cross grade and high schools, the new convent was erected on the northwest corner of Church Street and Southern Avenue on property adjacent to the school, purchased by the parish in 1927, the former R. Lee Bird property. The attractive three-story brick structure, following French-chateau lines of architecture, a convent modern in every detail, equipped with a chapel, was ready for occupancy by June of 1940, and was at that time dedicated.
Thus with the new Sisters' home, Holy Cross Parish had a well-ordered and complete group of parish buildings. On October 12-14, 1940, the Golden Jubilee celebration of the parish was fittingly observed. In 1952, Father Fey made extensive repairs on the sanctuary of the church. The parish today numbers eight hundred and eighty-four families.
Inseparable, in thought and fact, in the history of the parish and of Holy Cross schools are the Benedictine Sisters. They came to Holy Cross in 1891. They shared in the early privations with priests and people uncomplainingly. they became part of the parish, going from cramped quarters to cramped quarters, until such time as an ample residence could be provided for them. They witnessed all the changes of the parish--the little upstairs church growing into the present spacious edifice; the little two-room school developing into a splendid parish elementary and high school.
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