Historical Video for St. Bernard Church
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St. Bernard Church recently celebrated the centennial anniversary of the 1914 dedication of its current church, which is the third church structure built in Dayton, KY.
We outgrew our first church, begun in 1849 under the name of St. Francis. Floods destroyed our second church. Then, in 1914, persevering even through bankruptcy, we built the current magnificent structure of sacred architecture, named after St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Today (2016), the parish numbers 190 households. Much of the history below is taken from the History of the Diocese by Fr. Paul Ryan, written in 1953. A very dedicated parishioner has researched the rest.
The First Church (1854) – St. Francis
“The early history of the church at Dayton centers around the little town of Jamestown, where the first church was built. Later, the two towns, Jamestown and Brooklyn on the Ohio River were combined to form present Dayton. The first church at Dayton was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. When the present church was dedicated in 1914, the name of the parish was changed, the church being dedicated under the patronage of St. Bernard.
In the latter 1840’s there were about forty Catholic families in Jamestown and vicinity, who were obliged to attend Mass at Corpus Christi Parish in Newport, or to cross the Ohio River to Cincinnati. In 1849, the little congregation formed a St. Joseph Society for the men and a St. Mary Society for the women, which had as their objectives the planning and erecting of a church in Jamestown. Two years later, a piece of property was bought, and the following year, 1853, the congregation was privileged to have the cornerstone of their proposed church laid by Bishop Martin J. Spalding of Louisville, who while on a visitation to Northern Kentucky visited Jamestown. By the end of June, 1854, a neat brick church, forty by sixty feet, was nearing completion. The first church in Jamestown (present Dayton), was dedicated under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi, on Sunday, July 9, 1854.
Although unable to send the congregation a resident pastor immediately on the completion of the church, Bishop Carrell, a few months later, assigned Reverend Michael Herzog as pastor of the new parish. Father Herzog found himself faced with the problem of erecting a pastoral residence and a school. In 1857, ill health forced Father Herzog to relinquish his pastorate at Jamestown. His successor, Reverend Charles Schaffroth, continued to develop the parish plant, and among other things purchased a tract of land to be used as a parish cemetery. On Sunday, May 1, 1858, Bishop Carrell administered Confirmation at St. Francis Church. In the afternoon, he blessed the parish cemetery, located on a hill about a quarter of a mile from town.
Father Schaffroth’s successor, Reverend Francis Grome, served St. Francis Parish for seventeen years from 1860 to 1877. Father Grome added three more lots to the church property.
The Second Church (1866) – St. Francis
By 1865, the number of Catholic families in the community had reached one hundred and fifty, and there was need of larger church facilities. Father Grome, in the spring of 1866, began the erection of a new church at Dayton. Bishop Carrell dedicated the church on Sunday, September 23, 1866. At the close of Bishop Carrell’s episcopate, St. Francis Parish had about 1500 members, with two hundred children under instruction.”[i]
In the late 1870’s however, the pastor and trustees engaged in a number of wild financial speculations. Then, “during the latter part of the pastorate of Father Grome, the parish suffered from a complete financial failure.”[i] There were lawsuits and criminal proceedings were threatened. So the parishioners were in a real predicament. Yet, although financially ruined with their church owned by the bank, the faith of the many good parishioners did not falter. To clear up this mess, a Judge transferred the deed to Bishop Toebbe in trust of the congregation for $7,600. To insure that nothing like this can happen again, on April 25th, 1880,
(125 years ago today) Bishop Toebbe had every parish report their revenues and expenses to the Diocese. That practice continues today.
That ended part of the dark period of our history.
“During the eighteen-year pastorate of Reverend Stephan Schmid, from 1886 to 1904, many improvements were made in the parish, including a new school building in 1888, and a new rectory in 1898.”[i] The former rectory became the sisters house.
“In 1904, Reverend Bernard Greifenkamp succeeded Father Schmid.”[i]
Unfortunately however, the Ohio River’s flooding continued to plague the good
people – seems they would just clean up from one flood and they were hit again the next year. Of course each flood did more damage until finally in 1907 the damage was so severe, the muddy waters remained in the church for 3 long weeks. When it receded, the pastor and parishioners saw the flood had actually lifted the floor from the foundation. A building inspector from Cincinnati reported the church was unsafe and to continue to use it, hog chains were put around the church’s foundation to support the structure!
Efforts begin for a new (third) church
“In 1909, Father Greifenkamp laid the plans for a new church. The new church site purchased at that time consisted of a town block, bounded by Fourth and Fifth Avenues, and by Jackson and Berry Streets. On the property was a large double two-story brick building.”[i]
The lot was purchased from Captain Oscar Barrett. The ground breaking was a sign of hope to the weary pastor and his flock. The homestead originally belonged to James MacArthur – one of the founders of Jamestown. The land cost $20,000 with an initial deposit of $1,000 and the remaining 19,000 payable within a year. This was accomplished. The large home became the rectory.
“Father Greifenkamp immediately began work on the foundation of the new church”[i] The men of the parish organized the Cross and Crown Circle for the purpose of raising money for their new church. There were bazaars, promenades, concerts, etc., and within the year, on September 19, 1909, the cornerstone was laid!
To quote the Catholic Telegraph of 1909, “The laying of the cornerstone of the new St. Bernard Church, Dayton,KY. last Sunday proved to be one of this year’s most notable events of the Diocese. The parade which preceded the services started promptly at 1:30 from the old St. Francis Church. The ceremony of laying the corner stone was performed by the Right Reverend Bishop.
Father Greifenkamp, the pastor, was assisted by many priests of neighboring cities. In the evening the grounds were beautifully illuminated, and during the afternoon and evening the ladies of the congregation served refreshments to the visitors.“
As stated the property cost $20,000 and the foundation an additional $10,000.
Throughout this time, the people were still attending Mass in the old, dilapidated church.
Even so, “because of the lack of funds, the construction of the church had to be discontinued.”[i]
The flood that destroyed the 1866 church
“In 1913, a flood damaged the old St. Francis Church beyond profitable repair, likewise making it unsafe for use.”[i]
The pulpit had bowed down and floated in the church, the altars were leaning to one side, the pews were torn from the floor and was floor itself was torn asunder. The final insult, the steeple fell from the roof and lay in the muddy waters of the school yard.
The pastor must have believed in that old cliché ‘if you can fight ‘em, join ‘em’ as records show in 1913 Father Greifenkamp purchased a boat for $44.99!
Now, with this second church finally destroyed by multiple floods, and the parish struggling financially, Bishop Maes was called in for a consultation and after one look at the state of the church he said:
“Well, Father, she is wrecked now. God has done it. All I can say is go to it and build. I will stand by you in your great need.”
While the church was being constructed, a room on the second floor of the old school became a makeshift church where Mass was said each day.
Looking back at life in the U.S. in 1914 (when our present day church was built)
Let us pause here to take a look at life in the U.S. in 1914.
WWI began in July. The average life expectancy in the US was 52 years for men and 56.8 years for women! The average union wage for carpenters, bricklayers, etc. was 65 cents an hour. Cleveland , not NY, installed the first traffic light in the U.S. Most homes had no indoor plumbing. Gas was .15 a gallon, coffee .30 a pound, milk was .36 a gallon and bread .06 a loaf.
In 1914 about 60% of children were enrolled in school and 13% earned a high school diploma…less than 3% earned a BA in college!
In the middle of this our predecessors continued to build this parish.
The Third Church is dedicated in 1914 – St. Bernard
“With the permission of Bishop Maes, work on the superstructure was begun in July, 1913. The parish, because of its earlier financial distress, was at the time penniless. All the money necessary for the work had to be borrowed. Thus, the planned façade was not erected, but rather, a crude mission type of a front was constructed with the hope that in a few years a suitable façade might be erected. The church was dedicated on Sunday, August 23, 1914.”[i]
A new church and a new beginning. The Bishop spoke with the pastor Father Bernard Greifenkamp and suggested a new name be given due to the dark days that preceded the demise of St. Francis Church. So our church was named for Fr. Greifenkamp’s patron saint….Bernard. Also the Feast of St. Bernard of Clairvaux is August 20. In August, the church bells from St. Francis were removed and brought to St. Bernard Church. Some other items were also brought from the old church and to this day adorn our church: the adoring Angels and the Stations of the Cross.
Two weeks before the dedication however, poor Fr. Greifenkamp fell and broke his arm! But nothing would deter him from this grand day! “Dayton was in festive attire for the occasion never before was there such joy among both the Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The sun rose beautiful and everything promised that happiness would be supreme that day. The dedication services were preceded by a grand parade through the cities of Dayton and Bellevue. It started from the old St. Francis where all the school children joined the several thousand men belonging to the church societies of the three cities and their suburbs, as well as a number of uniformed knights.
Continual fundraising had paid off the debt. Beautiful stained glass windows were added through generous donations and a new school was built.
The first stained glass windows were installed in 1919.
The large transept windows were added in 1920:
St Peter being given the keys to the Kingdom,
and Jesus with the little children.
“At the new location, school was first conducted in the church basement. The present modern school, situated behind the church, was erected in 1925.”[i]
Then, the parish decided it was time to complete the originally planned façade of the church.
“The urgent need of a new school had postponed the completion of the church. With the permission of Bishop Howard, in 1929, the dream of the pastor and parishioners was brought to a reality. Plans were made for the construction of the present façade of St. Bernard Church. The mission front, a temporary structure, gave place to a stately Romanesque façade. The erection of the front completed the beautiful edifice which had been begun sixteen years previously. The old St. Francis Parish, a bankrupt parish, had ceased to exist in 1913. The new St. Bernard Parish, a financially sound and well-organized parish, became the pride of the Catholics of Dayton.”[i]
“On the death of Father Greifenkamp, in 1931, Reverend Hubert Schmitz… was appointed to Dayton. Under the capable leadership of Father Schmitz, St. Bernard Parish… progressed spiritually and materially…”[i]
In 1932, the beautiful stained glass windows of the beatitudes were added – this in the midst of the Great Depression! In 2015, the windows of the church were valued at $1,570,925.
From the groundbreaking in 1909, till the adding of the last of the magnificent stained glass windows in 1932, 23 years of faith-filled blood, sweat and tears went into this beautiful church!
“[I]n November, 1952… three classrooms on the second floor of the school were remodeled into a convent for the Sisters of Divine Providence, who… (taught) in the parish school.”[i]
A new rectory was constructed in 1957.
This completed the campus as we know it today (2016).
When the flood wall was constructed in 1981, many homes needed to be torn down. Many of these were Catholic homes. Then, after the flood wall was built, Government Projects were constructed, which tended to serve a largely non-Catholic population. Demographics have shifted to a more transient population, with people moving away from the inner city.
Our Food Pantry was started in 1986 by Sister Maddalena Guidugli, CDP to serve the poor of the Dayton community. It first operated out of the rectory. Now, in 2016, it serves 400 families in Dayton and Bellevue.
Sadly, with declining numbers, the school closed in 2002. After the school closed, the Food Pantry moved into the bottom floor of the school.
Since 2009, St. Bernard Church has been pleased to host student priests from India, who are working on getting their Master’s Degree in Education. Xavier University offers them free tuition and we offer them lodging in exchange for their help in saying Masses. Afterwards, they return to India, often to be principals of large schools.
Since 2011, we have had 2 priests in residence at St. Bernard rectory who celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. They are beginning a new religious order under the name: Missionaries of St. John the Baptist. They purchased their own church property in 2015 and will be moving to this property in late summer of 2016. We are proud to have played a part in the foundation of this new order.
In 2015 we celebrated our Centennial with a Mass and luncheon that was well attended.
Also in 2015, renovations were initiated through a memorial tile fundraiser. Replicas of our stained glass windows of the beatitudes were framed in panels with memorial tiles of our parishioners.
Plans are currently underway for a new heating and air-conditioning system for the church. In its hundred-year history, St. Bernard has never had air conditioning. During the dog days of summer, it becomes quite hot in church.
[i] Rev. Paul E. Ryan, History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953