St. Thomas

The Site of the City of Ft. Thomas originally was a part of the grant of land given by the State of Virginia to Colonel John Campbell, an early American Army officer, after whom Campbell County was named. In 1866, Eli Kinney, a rising figure in banking circles in Cincinnati, purchased property in that area, which became known as the Eli Kinney Highlands Home Subdivision. With the failure of the Kinney National Bank of Cincinnati, Eli Kinney was declared bankrupt and all his assets ordered to be sold. Much of the original property of the Kinney Subdivision was purchased by the United Stated Government in 1887 for an army post to replace the Newport Barracks. The selection of the site is accredited to the Civil War veteran, General Phil Sheridan, who gave it the name of "Fort Thomas," in honor of his colleague, General George H. Thomas.

The Bishops of Covington have always shown interest in the Catholic soldiers stationed at Ft. Thomas. Whenever the number of Catholics has warranted it, and no Army Chaplain had been appointed, priests of the Diocese have been assigned to look after the spiritual needs of the men. Following the Spanish-American War, when there was a large number of soldiers at the Fort, Very Reverend Edward Vattmann, who ranked as a Major in the Army, was stationed there. Later, when the number of the soldiers at the Fort was reduced, Reverend Peter McDonald and Reverend Matthias J. Leick attended them. Beginning in July, 1917, Mass was offered regularly at the Fort. Pending the erection of a chapel and social quarters at the Fort by the Knights of Columbus, the U.M.C.A. tent was used for Catholic services. Having a shortage of priests, Bishop Brossart consulted with Archbishop Moeller of Cincinnati, who assigned Reverend William J. Anthony, his secretary, to say Mass at the Fort on each Sunday, as long as circumstances demanded.

In the early 1870's, the Jesuits of St. Xavier College had a summer Villa on the fifty-acre Avenel property in The Highlands, where Mass was offered in their Chapel. The establishment of the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in the Highlands of Campbell County beyond Newport, moreover, soon necessitated a resident chaplain in the Fort Thomas area. The organizing of a parish in Ft. Thomas was begun in 1901 by Reverend Matthias J. Leick, who had been appointed as chaplain of the Good Shepherd Convent. In 1902, Father Leick became the first pastor of the Ft. Thomas congregation, remaining in that pastorate until 1906, when he was transferred to Corpus Christi Parish, Newport.

The first St. Thomas Church was located on Grand Avenue at the foot of Tremont Avenue. The cornerstone of the church was laid on August 3, 1902, by Very Reverend Ferdinand Brossart, V.G. The brick structure, a combination church and school, was dedicated by Bishop Maes on December 21, 1902.

In 1918, the congregation purchased property at the corner of South Ft. Thomas Avenue and Villa Place. At a meeting of the trustees of the parish, on June 4, 1918, the advisability of renovating the residence on South Ft. Thomas Avenue was discussed. Later, in the same month, Father Thomas Coleman moved into the new parish rectory, located opposite the new church site.

St. Thomas Church remained on Grand Avenue until 1921. In 1920, a two-story combination church and school building, measuring fifty by seventy-two feet, was erected on the new property at Villa Place. The cornerstone of the building was laid on June 27, 1920. The first floor of the new building contained a chapel with a seating capacity for about three hundred persons. The second floor housed three large classrooms. The building had a large basement to serve as an assembly hall. The exterior of the edifice was constructed of tapestry brick with stone trimmings.

When Reverend Herbert F. Hillenmeyer became pastor of St. Thomas Parish in 1925, one of his first projects was to add six more classrooms to the combination church and school building. In 1937, Monsignor Hillenmeyer began the construction of the present St. Thomas Church. In January of that year, a new rectory was acquired, by the purchase of the Donaldson homestead, and the old rectory was razed. The Sisters' home and the janitor's house were moved to their present location, opposite the rectory, to make room for the new church which was to front on South Ft. Thomas Avenue at East Villa Place. On Sunday, March 6, 1938, Bishop Howard laid the cornerstone. A year later, the new artistic St. Thomas Church, constructed of Bedford stone on the exterior and Indiana limestone on the interior, of modern Romanesque architecture, was dedicated by Bishop Howard on Sunday, March 26, 1939.

In 1945, the space in the school building formerly occupied by the chapel was remodeled into classrooms to serve as a St. Thomas High School, which was opened in September of that year. In 1948, the parish purchased the Dr. Harry Meyer residence on South Ft. Thomas Avenue to be used as a convent for the Sisters of Divine Providence.

In preparation for the Golden Jubilee of the parish in 1952, Monsignor Hillenmeyer further enhanced the church by installing a number of imported stained-glass windows and new mosaic Stations. On Sunday, August 3, 1952, the parish observed its Golden Jubilee. St. Thomas Parish today numbers about five hundred and fifty families  


excerpted fromĀ History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953, by Rev. Paul E. Ryan