Immaculate Conception Church

Immaculate Conception Parish, the first parish in Newport for English-speaking Catholics, was a daughter-parish of Corpus Christi Parish. By the time of Bishop Carrell’s arrival in the Diocese, the number of English-speaking Catholics in Newport was such as to warrant their separation from Corpus Christi Parish, and to form a parish of their own. At first they secured the services of other priests to say Mass for them, and by an agreement with Father Voll, an hour was assigned to them for services between the regular parish Masses on Sundays. In March, 1855, the English-speaking people purchased a lot on Madison Street (now Fifth Street), the present church site, and on April 15, 1855, the cornerstone of the new church was laid by Bishop Carrell. The church was dedicated on Sunday, December 23, 1855, in honor of the Immaculate Conception, which dogma had been solemnly defined on December 8, 1854.

 The people took a lively interest in the erection of their new church, which was modeled after the Cathedral on Eighth Street in Covington. The first Mass in the church was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1855. As Bishop Carrell did not have a priest to send as a resident pastor at the time, he himself frequently offered Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church. Bishop Carrell was deeply interested in the new parish and he displayed much zeal in his efforts toward its firm establishment.

 Reverend John Force, an assistant at St. Mary Cathedral, Covington, was appointed the first resident pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, in August, 1856. Father Force resided on Bellevue Street (now Fourth Street). His pastorate continued until February, 1857, when Reverend Patrick Guilfoyle was appointed as his successor. 

Father Guilfoyle was truly the pioneer pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish. Some might be led to regard him, from an impersonal viewpoint, simply as a “brick and mortar” pastor, but in doing so they would fail to become acquainted with the real Father Guilfoyle. He did heroic work in spite of every privation and danger. Wherever there was sickness, vice, or poverty, his influence was ever felt toward its alleviation. He went on errands of mercy through rain and storm, by day and night. His memory is cherished for those things which posterity does not permit to die.

 The first residence of Father Guilfoyle was a two-room cottage on the King-and-Daly’s lot. This cottage later served as a school. For a time, he resided with Mr. M.J. King, whose residence was at the corner of Madison and Columbia Streets. In 1857, Father Guilfoyle built a one-story brick building on the northeast corner of the present school yard, and in 1863, he added two stories to the building. Besides the girls’ school taught by the Sister of Charity of Mazareth, in 1863 Immaculate Conception Parish had two parish male schools, senior and junior. The junior department was conducted by a Mr. Mohr, and the senior department by Brother Moses from Cincinnati. In 1864, Father Guilfoyle purchased the site adjoining the residence of Mr. M.V. Daly on Fifth Street, and erected the building which became a part of Immaculata Academy.

 Prior to 1860, a number of soldiers and officers from the Newport garrison attended Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church. Woven into the early history of the Immaculate Conception Parish were the lives of many of Campbell County’s most distinguished citizens, such as the O’Shaughnessys, Dalys, Walshes, Taneys, and Sheas. Vivid accounts are given of those early days when Mr. And Mrs. James Walsh were the pioneers of philanthropy in Newport, their generosity knowing no limits by creed or race. Likewise alive today is the memory of the name of Florence Taney, the gifted lyrist of the Immaculate Conception Parish, whose memory lives in her writings, among which is the work, “Kentucky Pioneer Women,” as well as other works written under the nom de plume of Tina May. 

In 1869, Father Patrick Guilfoyle began the erection of a more worthy church for the Immaculate Conception Parish. The cornerstone was laid on October 3, of that year, with great solemnity. Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati officiated at the ceremonies. The building committee consisted of James Walsh, George R. Fearons, J.D. Lenihan, Patrick Walsh, and M.S. Burns. The new church was dedicated in 1873. The plans called for two towers, but this part of the edifice was not completed. In the panic of the 1870’s, Immaculate Conception Parish suffered grave financial embarrassment. 

Father Guilfoyle’s pastorate continued until November, 1874. During his pastorate, he had built the Immaculate Conception Church; the four-story building adjoining the church, used by Immaculata Academy; and two brick parish schools, one for boys and one for girls. Father Guilfoyle was succeeded by Reverend Thomas C. Moore, a priest of great learning and piety, who in 1877 was succeeded by Reverend James Bent. 

When Bishop Toebbe appointed Reverend James McNerney pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, in June, 1878, the parish was still in serious financial straits resulting from injudicious, but sincere, management of earlier years. The congregation found in its new leader a vigorous, clear-sighted business man. With the aid of a number of parishioners, notably Mr. Peter O’Shaughnessy and Mr. James Walsh, Father McNerney brought the parish safely through its financial stress. The body of the churcd which had been completed in 1877 was embellished by Father McNerney, and among other things stained-glass windows were installed. In 1886, the façade was constructed, being dedicated on January 23, 1887. The ability of Father McNerney as an administrator is seen from the fact that in 1901 the parish was declared free from debt. On April 19, 1903, the church was solemnly consecrated by Bishop Maes.

 Father McNedrney gave great attention to the education of youth. The foundation laid by his predecessors was broadened and deepened, with the result that a uniform system of education was introduced, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth also taking charge of the boys’ school. In 1892, a parish school, a spacious building of three stories, with a chapel and auditorium, was erected. The parish school was declared a free school in September, 1892. In 1897, the present parish residence was completed. When the parish observed its Golden Jubilee in 1905, it had become one of the most flourishing parishes of the Diocese.

 In 1915, having spent thirty-seven years of his priestly life as pastor of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Father McNerney had reached the Golden Jubilee of his ordination to the Priesthood. On Sunday, July 2, 1915, the parish joined in the celebration of the Golden Jubilee ceremonies. But with the passing of three weeks, Immaculate Conception Church, which had been so beautifully decorated with the festive colors in honor of the Golden Jubilee of its pastor, was draped in colors of mourning for the beloved pastor who was called in death on July 19, 1915. Following the death of Father McNerney, Reverend George O’Bryan was appointed administrator of the parish.

 On December 14, 1915, Very Reverend James L. Gorey, who had served as Chancellor of the Diocese and Secretary to Bishop Maes for the past twenty-two years, was appointed successor to Father McNerney. Father Gorey’s pastorate at the Immaculate Conception Parish extended over the next eleven and a half years, until the time of his death. Father Gorey improved the parish in every way. He accomplished much both spiritually and socially. Under his direction the parish school increased in enrollment, and due to his influence and encouragement, the attendance at Immaculata Academy was more than doubled. His charity towards the poor and flood sufferers was known throughout Newport. Death came to Father Gorey, after a long and painful illness, on July 1, 1927. The pastorate of Father Gorey’s successor, the Reverend Francis Kehoe, was of short duration, extending from November, 1927, to the time of his death, June 25, 1928.

 In September, 1929, Bishop Howard appointed the Very Reverend Joseph A. Flynn, Vicar General of the Diocese, irremovable rector of the Immaculate Conception Parish, which had become vacant by the death of Father Kehoe. Father Flynn took up his duties as pastor on Sunday, October 24, 1929. His pastorate continued a little over three years, until his death, December 9, 1932.

 On August 3, 1933, the present pastor, Reverend Gerhard H. Geisen, Chancellor of the Diocese, was appointed to the Immaculate Conception Parish. On  July 14, 1941, Father Geisen was elevated to the rank of Domestic Prelate by His Holiness, Pius XII.

 The Immaculate Conception Parish extends in part over the lower western section of the city, which has a considerable Colored population. In 1928, missionary work had been undertaken among the Colored people by Father Flynn, which work has been continued under the direction of the present pastor. It has become the custom for a special class of Christian Doctrine to be held on Sunday afternoons for Colored people, conducted by lay catechists of the Sacred Heart Mission Society. During the last quarter of a century, Immaculate Conception Parish has been one of the leading parishes in the Diocese for converts. Lay catechists of the parish Confraternity of Christian Doctrine have become an outstanding agency for the parish’s record of numerous converts. Convert work among the Negro people has grown steadily since its inception in 1928. 

Immaculate Conception Parish at present consists of a congregation of nine hundred 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