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Our Rich History: Catholic secondary schools in Newport, starting with Immaculata Academy in 1857

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribiune

Part 50 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020”

Immaculata Academy. Circa 1917. From a postcard courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte

The first Catholic secondary school to open in Newport was Immaculata Academy. The pastor and people of Immaculate Conception Parish, the English-speaking congregation for Newport, requested the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to staff a parish school for girls and to open an academy. In the autumn of 1857, the Sisters agreed to the appeal and opened Immaculata Academy in a building on Madison Street (later renamed West Fifth) in the city’s West End. Originally a grade school only, the academy eventually added a high school program which was coeducational for some time.

Immaculata Academy on Madison St. (later renamed West Fifth St.), Newport

In 1858, Sister Mary David Wagner was appointed to Immaculata Academy. Her service would have a profound impact. Sr. Mary David entered the Order of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, in 1855 and took her vows on February 2, 1857. Her first official assignment was as music teacher at Immaculata. She remained in Newport for 22 years and was a force in education for the children of the city. Recognizing the need for a permanent school building, Sister Mary David began planning for a new brick structure on Fifth Street. The three-story building was affectionately known as “David’s tower.”

In 1898, Mrs. Peter O’Shaushnessy, a long-time benefactor of Immaculata, donated her parents’ home next door to the academy building, to the sisters. This two-story home allowed the sisters to expand their curriculum and attendance. Three years later in 1901, the M.J. King house was acquired by the Sisters. From this point forward, the King home became the convent for the Sisters of Charity teaching at both Immaculata Academy and Immaculate Conception Parish School.

The floods of 1884 and 1913 did much damage to Immaculata Academy, as well as to Immaculate Conception Church and School. The damage was quickly repaired, but as a result, the neighborhood surrounding the parish and schools began to lose population. Catholics began moving to higher ground in Newport and therefore, the enrollment, especially at Immaculata Academy, began to decline. By September 1931, the Sisters of Charity requested permission from Bishop Howard to close the academy. Permission was granted and the school closed at the end of the 1932-1933 school year. That year, enrollment at the academy stood at 180 with 53 in the high school program. The Sisters of Charity continued to teach at Immaculate Conception Parish School.

Mt. St. Martin Academy was the former home (built in 1851) of Mary Keturah Taylor and Thomas Lauren Jones. It stood on the hilltop where Burlington Coat Factory and Ross Dress for Less are currently located on Carothers Road. Photo courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte

Mt. St. Martin Academy

The second academy to be established in Newport was established by the Sisters of Divine Providence who came to the Diocese of Covington from France at the request of Bishop Camillus P. Maes in 1889. The Sisters established their convent in the old Jones Mansion in south Newport which they christened Mount St. Martin after the sisters’ founder. Shortly thereafter they established Mt. St. Martin Academy in the same building.

Academy Notre Dame of Providence

In 1901-02, the sisters acquired a large piece of property on East Sixth Street in Newport for the construction of a new academy. Construction on the beautiful new academy, designed by the influential architectural firm of Samuel Hannaford and Sons, began in 1902. The Beaux-Arts style building was a true ornament to the city and was dedicated on August 23, 1903 by Bishop Maes. The school was officially known as the Academy Notre Dame of Providence (ANDP) and was later anglicized to Our Lady of Providence Academy.

Our Lady of Providence Academy

Our Lady of Providence Academy offered a course for grades 1-12 (1-8 were coeducational for many years) and drew students from throughout Northern Kentucky, especially from the parish elementary schools where the sisters taught; this included three of the five parish schools in Newport. In time, the school was accredited by the University of Kentucky, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Over time, the secondary department grew to such an extent that the primary school was closed in 1934. Enrollment reached its peak in 1968 with 464 students.

The appointment of the Rev. Francis W. Howard as Bishop of Covington in 1923 had a great impact on the development of the Catholic school system in the Diocese of Covington. An instrumental leader in the National Catholic Educational Association and former Superintendent of Schools in the Columbus (Ohio) Diocese, Howard brought to Covington a wealth of experience in the field of education.

Our Lady of Providence Academy, East Sixth St., Newport, is now a residential complex called the Hannaford. From a postcard courtesy of Paul A. Tenkotte.

Two parish high schools were established in Newport in the 1920s during Howard’s episcopacy: Corpus Christi and St. Stephen. In 1922, the Corpus Christi Parish in the city’s West End constructed a high school building to accommodate the new program. The new four-year high school opened in 1923 with the ninth grade. In each succeeding year, another grade was added. The Sisters of Divine Providence staffed the school. Corpus Christi High School, however, was short-lived. The school closed in 1930 during the height of the Great Depression. It was replaced by a two-year commercial course which lasted until 1933. St. Stephen High School was established in 1922. The Sisters of Notre Dame of Covington, Kentucky served on the faculty. The high school program at St. Stephen was also discontinued in 1933.

The diocese needed to find a more efficient and economical way of providing secondary education to the growing number of Catholic children who desired to continue their education. The solution was the establishment of central Catholic high schools that would be supported by a group of parishes. Beginning in the 1920’s, Bishop Howard began a movement to finance the development of a central Catholic high school for boys in both Kenton and Campbell Counties. One of these schools was Newport Catholic High School.

Newport Catholic High School

In 1929, Bishop Howard established Newport Catholic High School (originally named Campbell County Catholic High School for Boys) to serve as the central high school in Campbell County for young men. During its inaugural year, the school enrolled 35 students in the freshman class. Diocesan priests and laymen staffed the new school, which was initially located on the campus of St. Stephen Parish. By 1934, Newport Catholic High School enrolled 167 pupils, with 73 of these in the freshman class. The faculty consisted of five priests and four lay teachers.

Newport Catholic quickly outgrew the available facilities at St. Stephen Parish. In 1934, the school relocated to the former buildings of Immaculata Academy on West Fifth Street. By 1935, 235 young men were enrolled at Newport Catholic. These pupils were being taught by six priests and five laymen. The lack of adequate funds proved a major concern for the administrators of Newport Catholic. During the 1934-1935 school year, Newport Catholic amassed a deficit of over $1,000. In order to continue the program, the sponsoring parishes were required to supply the necessary funds to liquidate the deficit. Despite these financial difficulties, enrollment continued to increase. In September 1945, Newport Catholic High School began operation on the campus of Corpus Christi School on Isabella Street.

Newport Catholic High School. Photo courtesy of Kenton County Public Library, Covington, KY.

The need for a larger and more suitable school building led the diocese to begin a fundraising campaign to build a new Newport Catholic. The new school included a gymnasium, chapel and ample classrooms and was located on Carothers Road in the southern end of Newport near the suburban communities of Ft. Thomas and Southgate. Construction was funded by the ten supporting parishes, most of which were in Newport, Bellevue and Dayton. The new $857,000 building was dedicated in 1955.

From the beginning, the staff at Newport Catholic was primarily made up of diocesan priests and lay teachers. In 1964, the Christian Brothers agreed to send members to assist in staffing the school. Brother Julian Mark Sullivan F.S.C. was the first Christian Brother principal. The brothers remained until 1992.

Postwar declining populations in Campbell County’s urban core had a significant impact on Newport’s two remaining Catholic high schools. In 1981, Bishop William A. Hughes identified the need for comprehensive school planning. Hughes commissioned the Office of Educational Services at the University of Dayton to complete a study of the secondary schools in the Covington Diocese. Ultimately, one of the recommendations was the merger of Newport’s two Catholic high schools into one. As a result, the merger of Our Lady of Providence Academy and Newport Catholic High School occurred in 1982 under the name Newport Central Catholic High School. The Newport Catholic High School building was selected as the site for the new school.

Since the merger, the coeducational Newport Central Catholic High School has flourished. New academic programs have been started, the athletic program has proven successful, and the school building and facilities have undergone several renovations and improvements, including a 2008 $7.5 million construction project.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library. He is the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015), and coauthor of Lost Northern Kentucky (2018).

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

A portion of this article previously appeared in Northern Kentucky Heritage, “The Love of Christ Impels Us,” by David E. Schroeder, Vol. 20, No. 1, pp. 42-56,

For further information, see:

Donald C. Horrigan, The Shaping of the NCEA (Columbus, OH: NCEA) 1978, pp. 4-5; The First Century of Corpus Christi Church, Newport, Kentucky (Published by the Parish, 1944); St. Stephen Centennial History (Published by the Parish, 1954); Paul A, Tenkotte and James C. Claypool, eds. The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2009), pp. 655-656, 693 and 780; Kentucky Post, September 5, 1923, p. 1, September 17, 1923, p. 1, August 18, 1927, p. 2 and August 19, 1928, p. 11; Paul E. Ryan, History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953 (Published by the Diocese, 1954), pp. 936-1938; Cincinnati Enquirer, March 14, 1978, p. 3; A Study of the Catholic High Schools In Boone, Campbell and Kenton Counties (Dayton, Ohio: The University of Dayton, 1981).

This 1886 Sanborn insurance map of Newport, KY shows Immaculate Conception Church on Madison St. (later renamed West Fifth St.) and neighboring Immaculata Academy, which eventually encompassed the two brick houses right next door. Source: Library of Congress, Sanborn Insurance Map, Newport, KY, 1886, Image 7.

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  1. Escaper says:

    I didn’t think there are so many Catholic schools in the USA. Amazing.

  2. Dan Moser says:

    I believe that there is some incorrect information about Immaculata Academy. My father was in the last graduating class in 1932. There were a total of 8 graduates: 7 females and 1 male, my father. James L Moser.

    The remaining females who chose to do were enrolled in LaSalette Academy in Covington which the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth also sponsored and operated. Any remaining males could enroll at Newport Catholic High School.

    The Great Depression also had an effect on enrollment; Immaculata and Immaculate Conception Parish was the “Irish” parish in Newport and its members were among the least wealthy in the City of Newport.

    Thank you

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