3 By 1800, the entire state of Ohio contained 42,000 people, located mainly in Cincinnati and Chillicothe. In 1806, Edward Fenwick O.P. (a native of Maryland) and three other Dominicans returned to the United States from their studies in Europe. They opened St. Rose of Lima Dominican Monastery near Springfield, Kentucky (between Louisville and Lexington). Fr. Fenwick spent much of his time travelling on horseback through Kentucky and Ohio, planting the seeds of the Catholic faith. In 1811, he celebrated the first Mass in Cincinnati at the home of Michael Scott (on the west side of Walnut between 3rd and 4th Street). The first steamboat on the Ohio, the Orleans, travelled from Pittsburgh to Louisville in 1811.7 In 1815, Bishop Flaget of Bardstown/Louisville wrote in his annual letter to Rome: “In my recent journey to Baltimore, I found fifty Catholic families in Ohio. Many other Catholics are scattered throughout Ohio, but those who migrated to these regions have never seen a priest since they left their former homes. Many have almost forgotten their religion. They are bringing up their children in complete ignorance of their faith. I must leave this neglected portion of the flock on account of lack of workers, for I can scarcely send a missionary to them even once a year.”8
Figure 1: Christ Church, first Catholic Church at Cincinnati, opened in 1819 at Liberty and Vine. Source: St. Xavier School Archives
By 1817, Michael Scott dreamt of building a Catholic church in Cincinnati. He felt a priest might want to live here, if a church was built.9 Local Catholics were very poor and unable to finance a church. Bishop Flaget suggested Scott contact the wealthy Maryland Catholics for help. Money was pledged, property bought, a small (55’x30’) wooden frame church was built at Liberty and Vine St. [Catholics could erect a cemetery there, because it was outside the city, and the land was less expensive there]. The first Mass was celebrated at a packed church in 1819 on Easter Sunday with about 50 Catholics present.10
From 1810 to 1820, the population of the state of Ohio more than doubled again from 230,000 to 580,000 people. Settlers streamed in from the east and the south. Immigrants arrived from Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. For passage to the New World, many committed themselves to work as bond servants for
Early history of St. Xavier High School researched and written by Fr. Dennis Ahern, S.J.