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Our Rich History: St. Aloysius Parish, lost Covington landmark; apartments nearly lost in ’16 fire

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

In November 2016, Covington, Kentucky, nearly lost another landmark when a fire occurred at the St. Aloysius Apartments at 8th and Bakewell Streets (formally St. Aloysius School). A blaze in one of the apartments resulted in widespread smoke and water damage to the depression-era building. The building was once part of a campus that included a beautiful church, convent and rectory. St. Aloysius, or as many called it St. A’s, had a long and interesting history.

St. Aloysius

St. Aloysius

The German Catholics of Covington’s Westside attended Mother of God Church on 6th Street in the pre-Civil War era. By 1865, Mother of God could no longer accommodate the growing population. That year, property was purchased at the corner of 7th and Bakewell Streets. On this lot, the congregation began construction of a three-story brick building that would house the church on the first floor, a convent on the second floor, and a school on the third floor. This first St. Aloysius Church was dedicated on September 17, 1865.

St. Aloysius Parish grew very quickly. Within five months of the dedication of the first building, the congregation had already begun planning for the construction of a permanent church. Louis Picket was chosen as the architect to draw the plans, which called for a Romanesque Revival structure with a central tower and pointed spire. The new church was dedicated on November 24, 1867. The original building was turned over entirely to school purposes at that time.

An interesting feature of St. Aloysius Church was the grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes that was built in the undercroft during the pastorate of Father Joseph Blenke (1887-1907). The grotto was constructed in 1889, and featured a large fieldstone wall with a niche for a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, as well as a miniature spring, similar to the one found at Lourdes, France. Water from Lourdes was periodically shipped to Covington to supply the spring. The vestibule to the grotto contained several hand-carved statuary groups which had been imported from Germany. The grotto became a popular place of private prayer in the Northern Kentucky area. In 1902, Pope Pius XIII declared the grotto at St. Aloysius Church a national shrine.

About 1895, the parish installed two large stained-glass windows (36’ x 12’) in the church transepts. The windows were crafted by the Royal Bavarian Art Institute in Munich, Germany, owned by F.X. (Franz Xaver) Zettler  (1841-1916). During the following year, eight additional windows were installed.

Father Joseph Blenke passed away in 1907. At the time of Blenke’s death, St. Aloysius was the largest parish in the Diocese of Covington, with 4,000 members, and 784 students enrolled in the parish school. Father Blenke’s successor was the Reverend Ignatius Ahmann. In preparation for the congregation’s golden jubilee, both the exterior and interior of the church were beautified and improved. Work on the exterior of the building began in 1911, using the plans of local architect David Davis (who also designed the façade of the Covington Cathedral). This work included the installation of a stone portico over the front entrance, the facing of the brickwork with stone, and the reconstruction of the original steeple and Gothic spire. The spire was replaced by a graceful copper cupola. The interior of the church was completely renovated in 1914.

Interior of the church

Interior of the church

In 1932, plans were drawn by George Lubrecht to build a new school for the congregation on 8th Street. The cornerstone of the new structure was laid on September 18, 1932, and the building was ready for occupancy in May 1933. The modern brick school contained three floors and included an auditorium and gymnasium. These were the years of the Great Depression, and the parish trustees made sure that as many of the unemployed parishioners as possible were hired to complete the building.

Father Ahmann’s pastorate came to an end in 1949. He had led the parish for more than 42 years. His successor was Father Nicholas Judermanns. During Father Judermanns’ tenure, the parish began to suffer the loss of parishioners due to urban flight. By 1950, school enrollment had decreased to 485 pupils. In 1952, the Sisters of St. Francis withdrew from the parish and were replaced by the Sisters of Divine Providence.

In 1966, Father Raymond McClanahan was named the co-pastor of St. Aloysius and the nearby St. Patrick Parish. In the following year, St. Patrick Parish was closed, a victim of urban renewal and declining membership. Its parishioners were encouraged to join with the people of St. Aloysius. Despite this influx of new members, St. Aloysius continued to decline, along with the population of Covington. In 1979, the decision was made to close St. Aloysius School, whose enrollment had declined to only 98 pupils. The school was renovated into housing for senior citizens.

1985 fire

1985 fire

On May 16, 1985 (the Feast of the Ascension), St. Aloysius Church was struck by lightning. By the time the fire department arrived, much of the roof was completely engulfed in flames. Within a short period of time, the cupola of the building collapsed onto 7th Street. A number of area residents were forced to evacuate their homes. By the time the fire was extinguished, only the shell of the building remained.

Many parishioners of St. Aloysius requested that the church be rebuilt. However, few Catholics lived in the neighborhood, and Mother of God and St. John Parishes were located nearby. Membership at St. Aloysius amounted to little more than 200 households. In January 1986, Bishop William A. Hughes announced that St. Aloysius would be merged with Mother of God Parish. The former St. Aloysius site was cleared and paved for use as a neighborhood parking lot.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library, the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), and coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

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  1. Phil Eha says:

    Well done as always. Love reading about the history of Northern Ky. Keep up the good work, and Thank You.

  2. Ben Barlage says:

    Great article about St. Al’s church and school in Covington.
    My great great grandparents Clemens and Therese Saalfeld were married here on 11/24/1868.
    They owned a portion of the property upon which St. Al’s Apartments now stands.
    Clemens was a cigar manufacturer and worked from the upper level of their frame house.
    The family sold their property to the Diocese in order to build the school.
    I have a photo of the family 08/18/1911 in the back yard looking North West.
    Both buildings in the background are still standing. I will load it to Facebook.
    Thanks for the article!
    Ben Barlage
    Edgewood, KY

  3. John T Pfarr says:

    The history skips over 1867 through 1886. On the occasion of the death of Pastor Johannes Stephany in 1886 the Catholic Telegraph wrote: When he (Fr Stephany) assumed charge of the congregation the ship was well nigh sinking, but soon, owing to his wise and skilful(sic) management, things were righted and the gathering clouds dispelled.

    Does anyone know more about this hard working and just man who died an early death?

  4. John Kelly says:

    The original steeple was, I believe, destroyed in the Great Wind Storm of 1925.

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