Old St George Church

St. George Church

Roots and Early Growth

The Roman Catholic Church has long had a dominant presence in the Cincinnati area. The first Catholic mass dates back to 1814 when Father Edward Fenwick held the first gathering in his own home. In 1819, the first Catholic church was built just outside of the city on the corner of Liberty and Vine streets. About a hundred of the city’s poor Irish attended services weekly.[1] The Diocese of Cincinnati was established in 1821, and it was only the eighth Catholic Diocese that had been established in the United States. All of Ohio and much of the Northwest Territory was under its jurisdiction. In 1850, the Diocese of Cincinnati became an Archdiocese.[2]

The St. George parish formed in 1868, originally occupying a small two-story building that housed a chapel on the ground level and a school on the upper floor. It was dedicated on November 15th, 1868.The primarily German parish experienced healthy growth due to the arrival of more and more Germans to the Corryville area from Over-the-Rhine. Soon the parish set its sights on a more proper home, an imposing new “Romanesque Revival” styled church structure designed by local architect Samuel Hannaford. The beautiful new church building was dedicated on June 28th, 1874. As the population of the Corryville neighborhood continued to swell, the membership of St. George also continued to grow, establishing the church as a primary anchoring institution in the community.

By 1895, more than 700 families were registered members of the St. George parish. The church began offering high school classes for the first time, ensuring local children a Catholic education for their entire grade school careers. Increased enrollment caused the parish to expand across the street with the construction of a new Jacobethan-style school building in 1914.

In 1928, the monastery/rectory addition completed the striking exterior of the main church building. Attached to the west side of the sanctuary, the new Romanesque-style addition provided much needed space for the clergy. The original church building, still standing to the east of the sanctuary, would now be used as a Catholic teacher’s college for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.[3]

Figure 1: St. George Church dominates the Corryville landscape, a visual reminder of its importance in the community. This sketch was done in the 1940s. 

Changes

In 1947, the teacher’s college moved out of the original home of the St. George parish, and the building was demolished to make room for a parking lot for the church. This was a sign of changing times and changing demographics in the Corryville

area. The University of Cincinnati was expanding both its medical and main campuses, reducing the amount of housing as well as the population of the Corryville neighborhood. By the 1970s, only 60 resident families were registered as members of the parish. However, this began a new era for the church, one that was intimately tied to the University of Cincinnati.

Figure 2: A postcard for St. George church showing all of the buildings and the Corryville neighborhood behind it. The postcard is most likely from the 1930s.

The St. George parish was now no longer just a church that served the Corryville neighborhood, it was one whose congregation was now largely populated by students, faculty, and staff of the University of Cincinnati. This relationship was further strengthened when the Franciscans and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati combined the parish with the UC Newman Center.

Due to dwindling enrollment, in 1977, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati expressed the need to significantly reorganize the parish schools that existed in the Uptown area. These included the schools of St. George, St. Monica, Holy Name, Assumption, Sacred Heart, and St. Andrews churches. The final decision was to merge all of the schools into one school, centrally located in the St. George School building. The school was renamed the Corryville Catholic School, and still operates today. 

Figure 3: This interior shot of St. George Church shows the sanctuary at Christmas time. This photo was most likely taken during the 1920s.

Closure

In 1989, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was experiencing a shortage of priests, and considered merging some of the Uptown parishes in order to solve this problem. The final decision, announced in 1989, was to merge St. Monica and St. George into one parish. The final mass was held in St. George on July 27th, 1993.[4] The new St. Monica and St. George parish, along with the UC Newman Center, currently operates out of the St. Monica church building, which is on McMillan Street in Fairview. It is currently undergoing restoration work and will hopefully continue to serve the Uptown area for many years to come.

Recent History

After the merger, the St. George church building was henceforth known as “Old St. George.” First the building was sold by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to a nonprofit organization called the “Christian Ministries Center”. This organization operated

a coffee shop and community center out of the building until it faced financial troubles in 2004.[5] Walgreens made an offer on the building, but because they planned on demolishing it, the offer was rejected, and the building instead was sold to the Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CHCURC) in 2005 for 1.6 million.[6] The CHCURC is “dedicated to the revitalization of the Clifton Heights neighborhood.”[7] The organization slowly began to explore reuse options for the church building.

Everything changed on February 1st, 2008, when combustible materials being stored in the building caught fire from an exposed light bulb, immediately setting the church’s two tall spires ablaze. Both steeple roofs eventually collapsed, and the façade of Old St. George was forever changed, causing waves of emotions in the local community.[8]

The CHCURC is planning to fully restore the building to its original state. After the restoration, the organization hopes to turn the church into a boutique hotel or a restaurant/brewery. It is currently raising funds from various sources to help pay for the restoration.

Figure 4: The towering Sander Hall represents the enormous influence the University of Cincinnati had on St. George Church. This photo was taken during the 1970s.


[1] Mary Willke Robisch et al., A Tour in Celebration: Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the

Archdiocese of Cincinnati, (Cincinnati: Yound and Klein, Inc., 1971), 2-4.

[2] Albert Hamilton, A Catholic Journey Through Ohio, ed. Catholic Conference of Ohio (St.

Meinrad, IN: Abbey Press, 1976), 42.

[3] Geoffrey J. Giglierano et al., The Bicentennial Guide to Greater Cincinnati: A Portrait of Two Hundred Years (Cincinnati, OH: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1988), 206.

[4] Eira Tansey, "Old St. George: 1868-2008," University of Cincinnati Libraries, last modified

2008, accessed October 3, 2011, http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/exhibits/stgeorge/index.html.

[5] "Old St. George: St. George Catholic Church - Cincinnati, OH," National Trust for Historic Preservation, last modified June 15, 2005, accessed October 3, 2011, http://www.preservationnation.org/resources/case-studies/historic-houses-of-worship/old-st-george.html.

[6] Dave Malaska, "Keeping Faith at Old St. George," CityBeat, July 1, 2009.

[7] The Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, accessed October 12, 2011,

http://www.chcurc.org/.

[8] Sarah Stephens, "Old St. George Church," CityBeat, February 20, 2008.      
Comments