Saint Agnes Parish was initially established as a Chapel annex to Saint Mary Cathedral Parish for Catholics living in that part of the Cathedral Parish encompassed by Park Hills and its vicinity. Msgr. Gerhard Geisen, the Chancellor of the Diocese, organized the community, which was still considered a part of the Cathedral Parish. The land acquired for “Saint Agnes Chapel” was about 11 acres. Some of this land was donated by August Knochelman and the rest was purchased from him. Mr. Knochelman had hoped that the Chapel would be named in honor of Saint Philomena, but Bishop Howard decided to name it in honor of Saint Agnes for reasons that appear to be lost to history.
The first parish Mass was celebrated on October 5, 1930. It was celebrated in a framed building that had been constructed on the north end of the property on Old State Road. The story is that this framed building was a “Sears Church,” which is to say it was a framed building that could be purchased from Sears Roebuck Company. This building was used by the Saint Agnes Chapel community from 1930-1939 when the new (and current) Church was dedicated. (This same “Sears Church” was then used by Saint Catherine Parish in Fort Thomas, Kentucky when it was founded and then by Christ the King Parish in Lexington, Kentucky when it was founded.) On August 31, 1931, a bell from the Twelfth Street Firehouse was donated to the Saint Agnes Chapel by the City of Covington.
The congregation grew rapidly and in 1938 construction was started on the current Saint Agnes Church. The Church was completed and formally dedicated on February 5, 1939 by Bishop Howard. A series of assistant pastors of the Cathedral served as Curates for the Chapel under the direction of the rector of the Cathedral until 1954. On August 9, 1954 Bishop William Mulloy issued a decree establishing Saint Agnes as a parish in its own right, separate from the Cathedral Parish. The name of the parish was changed from “Saint Agnes Chapel” to “Saint Agnes Church.” Monsignor Charles A. Towell was appointed the first pastor. Monsignor Towell served as pastor until 1971. Successive pastors have been: Monsignor Edward Hickey (1971-1982), Monsignor John Murphy (1982-1992), Monsignor Donald Hellmann (1992-1999) and Reverend Mark Keene (1999-present).
A new rectory, adjacent to the Church, was completed in 1956 to accommodate the additional clergy assigned to the growing parish. At one time, as many as six priests lived in the rectory.
Additional major additions and improvements to the Church included stained glass windows and new pews, which were added to the Church building in the early 1960’s. Because of continued growth in membership, in 1964 an annex was completed on the west side of the Church to accommodate the increasing attendance at Mass. In 1980, the Church sanctuary was remodeled to its current appearance. On Sunday, October 19, 1980, as part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the community, the Church was rededicated to Saint Agnes and the beautiful new altar was consecrated by Bishop William Hughes.
In the late 1980’s, what is called “the daily Mass chapel” was renovated. Built when the main Church was constructed in 1938-39, over the years this room had been used for classrooms, a Baptistery and a sacristy. It has been used as a chapel for the daily 6:30 a.m. Mass and other smaller Liturgical celebrations since then. It seats about 70.
In 1990, the Church undercroft was renovated. It would eventually be named “Murphy Hall” in honor of the parish’s third pastor, Monsignor John “Jack” Murphy. Also in 1990, the old school gym located in the church basement was remodeled and divided into offices. In 2001, work was done in the rectory to create several offices and make better use of the space.
Saint Agnes School opened its doors on September 8, 1930, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Sisters of Notre Dame staffed the school, which began with 26 pupils. The first students of Saint Agnes School attended classes in houses on the property and at Saint Joseph Heights. The school grew rapidly, and in 1941 a framed building behind the new Church and facing Old State Road was built. It consisted of four classrooms and a large basement recreation area. This building was dedicated on August 24, 1941 and was meant to be an interim school building until a larger, more permanent building was needed.
Within a few years the school enrollment was increasing rapidly, and the larger school that had been foreseen was needed. Ground was broken in 1955 for a new school building which was completed and dedicated on February 10, 1957. The Sisters of Notre Dame continued to operate the school. This sisters lived at Saint Joseph Heights until 1960 when Saint Agnes built a convent near the north end of the school for the convenience of the sisters teaching at the school.
In the early 1960’s, six classrooms and storage space was added to the north end of the school to accommodate the ever-increasing enrollment of the school, which had reached 879 children. This addition was completed in 1964. By 1967, Saint Agnes School enrollment peaked with 939 students. At that time the school was staffed by seventeen nuns and eleven lay teachers. All available space was used as classrooms, including rooms in the Church and Church basement and even at Covington Catholic High School, located down the street.
Ground was broken for new additions to the school on January 13, 1989. In 1990, the new addition to the school was opened. The addition included a multipurpose center, regulation-size gymnasium, science lab, computer lab, classrooms, enlarged kindergarten, guidance counselor’s office, and new offices and faculty workroom.
In 2013, Saint Agnes moved forward with renovations to update the school’s infrastructure, including new central heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, a new electric system, a state of the art computer network, computer labs and wireless capabilities. The renovation work also included improved lighting, new carpeting, ceiling and paint throughout the building, new doors, a walk-in refrigerator/freezer and various other improvements. All renovations were completed prior to the 2013-2014 school year.
In 1995, the Sisters of Notre Dame ended their administration of Saint Agnes School. However, the sisters and the parish have maintained a close relationship with sisters helping out in the school and parish in various capacities. The sisters administered and taught in the school for 65 years and this great favor to the parish has not been forgotten. In the time period between 1930 and 2014, 138 Sisters of Notre Dame have served at Saint Agnes.
The convent at Saint Agnes has not gone unused with the departure of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Beginning on January 8, 1995, Saint Agnes helped serve homeless families by being a part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) and later known as Family Promise of Northern Kentucky. The building was subsequently refurbished by members of Saint Agnes Parish and was used to host the homeless served by IHN/ Family Promise of Northern Kentucky on a regular basis from 1995-2013.
The chapel in the convent was converted for use as a Perpetual Adoration Chapel. Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began in January 1998. On October 5, 2014, the chapel was blessed and dedicated as “The Divine Mercy Adoration Chapel at Saint Agnes Parish” by Bishop Roger Foys. Perpetual Adoration continues today, every week from Sunday evening at 7:15 p.m. through Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. Hundreds of adorers commit to spending an hour at a specific time each week in Eucharistic Adoration. Many others stop in at unscheduled times. All are welcome!
Over the years, Saint Agnes School has always been the largest ministry of the parish. The parish financially supports the school to a large degree. However, the school is not the only ministry of the parish. Many of these ministries, including the school, are described in their current state elsewhere on this website and in the Parish Guidebook. Deserving of special note in this history of the parish however are the following outreach programs:
Christian Service Committee: In 1973, a group of parishioners formed this committee to provide assistance to people in need in the parish and beyond. The annual Christian Service Collection each November collects food donations for area agencies. Financial donations are also collected to be used over the course of the year to help parishioners who have fallen on hard times. Under the Christian Service Committee is the Bereavement Committee, which helps families at the time of death of a loved one. They help with planning the funeral Liturgy, celebrating the Liturgy itself, and the reception following the funeral. Christian Service is also funded by the parish’s “We Are His Hands” (tithing fund).
- Saint Vincent de Paul Chapter: Saint Agnes has a very active Saint Vincent de Paul chapter whose focus is to provide assistance to persons in need who are not parishioners. The Saint Vincent de Paul chapter receives funding through poor box donations in church and from the “We Are His Hands” (tithing fund).
We Are His Hands Fund (Tithing Fund): Since 2003, the parish has dedicated a percentage of the offertory gifts for outreach. This percentage has been 10% since 2008. Over this period, the parish has designated well over one million dollars for outreach in this manner. Included in this outreach are: tuition assistance for families to send their children to Saint Agnes School, the Christian Service Committee, Saint Vincent de Paul Chapter, Notre Dame Urban Education Center, Faith Community Pharmacy, Saint Augustine Parish City Heights Mission and more. Specific projects that received funding through this tithing fund include: $100,000 to Covington Catholic High School to help build their new academic center, $100,000 to Notre Dame Academy to help with new construction, $50,000 toward the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel at Thomas More College, as well as Prince of Peace School, the Sisters of Notre Dame Uganda Mission, Mary Rose Mission, and others.