St. William Parish

In 1820, when Grant County was formed from a part of Pendleton County, the county seat became known as Philadelphia. Later the same year, the name was changed to Williamstown. The Cincinnati and Lexington Turnpike passed through the village, forming its main street. 

Among the early Catholics at Williamstown were the Smiths, Hogans and O’Haras. In the early history of the Diocese, priests stationed at St. Stanislas’ College at White Sulphur visited the Catholics of Grant County. During the episcopate of Bishop Toebbe, Catholicity in Grant County was enlivened by more frequent visits of priests. Bishop Toebbe himself visited this section, saying Mass, instructing, baptizing and administering the Sacrament of Confirmation in the homes of the Catholics. Williamstown, during the episcopate of Bishop Toebbe, was attended most of the time from White Sulphur. In 1918, the first resident pastor of Williamstown, Reverend James J. Taaffe, wrote thus of the period when Williamstown was attached to White Sulphur:

 Through the 70’s, the homes of Dr. O’Hara, Ptk. Bannon and Mrs. Belle Clark had the honor of entertaining the good Bishop, and in these homes he said Mass and instructed his scattered flock. On the occasion of these visits, he also spoke in the Court House, kindly offered by the town authorities for this purpose. Fathers Moore, Major and Bowe were also frequent visitors from White Sulphur and held service in the Court House once a month. These missionaries were succeeded in the early 80’s by Father Donnelly, familiarly known as Jumbo, to distinguish him from little Father Edw. of the same name. The present pastor was then assistant at White Sulphur and it was our duty to come to Williamstown, where we held service in the Court House once a month. While this service had its advantages, it had also its defects on account of environments . . . 

The writer will not soon forget a memorable experience in ’83 when he buried the murdered Jim Bannon from this seat of Justice. This man was cowardly assassinated on the streets of Williamstown, and his adherents clamored loudly for the blood of his murderer. It needed only a word to lead the mob to the jail where his murderer was entombed, and wreak their vengeance according to Judge Lynch. I held the service, in the Court House, and after the sermon, which was not a funeral eulogy, a better feeling prevailed, and the culprit was left to be dealt with according to law. 

During the early part of the episcopate of Bishop Maes, the care of Williamstown was given to the pastor of St. Luke Parish, Nicholasville. Reverend George C. Bealer of Nicholasville had the care of the congregation from the spring of 1893 to January, 1906. The congregation in 1893 numbered about fourteen families. In the beginning. Father Bealer was accustomed to offer Mass in the courthouse, but later the Catholics of Williamstown undertook to build a church under his direction. A lot was purchased on North Main Street, upon which was erected the present frame church, which was dedicated under the patronage of St. William. The generosity of Lawrence Cavanaugh was largely instrumental in the erection of the church. From 1906 to 1212, Fathers Charles Rolfes and Romaine Van der Vorst attended the Williamstown mission. 

In 1912, Bishop Maes appointed Reverend James J. Taaffe the first resident pastor of Williamstown, who assumed charge of the parish on Ascension Thursday, May 16, 1912. Father Taaffe immediately turned his attention to the embellishment of the interior of the little church. 


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