St. Francis Seraph School History
Even before the St. Francis Seraph School was built, a unique plan was devised to make its parish school and that of its mother parish, St. John’s, two blocks away, inter-parochial. Some 1,200 school children belonged to the two parishes in 1860, and on June 24th of that year, an open meeting of the two parishes was held in St. John School. The two congregations appointed a committee under the presidency of Father Otto Jair to draw up the plan.
The committee proposed the following measures: (1) St. John would allow the use of their school rooms for both congregations, in return for which St. Francis would provide school rooms in the neighborhood of their church for similar use. (2) The boys of both parishes would attend the school of St. Francis Seraph and the girls the school of St. John. (3) The trustees of both congregations would also be trustees of these schools and administer them, subject to ecclesiastical authority. (4) Both parishes would share income and expenses of the schools.
This arrangement received the approval of Cincinnati Archbishop Purcell on July 4, 1860, and remained in force until the beginning of the school year 1891. The plan proved feasible for many years because of the short distance that separated the two schools, the fact that both parishes were served by the Franciscans, and the lack of separate parish limits as existed later.
The school building for St. Francis Seraph was planned and built on a site on Vine Street opposite the church. The plot of ground, formerly known as Huber’s Garden, extended 19 feet on Liberty Street, 175 feet on Vine Street, 288 feet on Huber Street, then diagonally back to Liberty Street. The northern part of the property, on which the Huber residence stood, was later disposed of by sale leaving a triangular plot remaining.
The three-story school building was 98 feet long and 42 feet wide, with a 44 by 28 foot-wide annex. The two lower floors contained classrooms, while the large “St. Francis Hall” occupied the entire third floor. This hall was originally used as a chapel for the school children and later as a meeting place for the numerous societies. The annex contained a residence for the janitor, rooms for the students of the Gymnasium or seminary, classrooms and a smaller hall.
The building was finished and ready for use at the opening of the school term in 1861. The dedication took place on Sunday afternoon, September 2, 1861. The next day the new school was opened to the children.
The first teachers in the school had been the Brothers of the Holy Cross who taught until the year 1871. They were often assisted by priests and student friars in residence at the friary. In 1872, Fathers Anselm Koch and Ubald Webersinke invited a community of German Xaverian Brothers in Louisville to come to Cincinnati and establish a new community that commonly became known as the “Teaching Brothers” or the “School Brothers.” Four members of the Louisville community responded to this invitation.
The friars helped them organize into a religious community under the supervision of the Franciscan Custody. The group was to follow a “Third Order Regular” Rule related to the way of life of the friars. These brothers taught at St. Francis Seraph School, as well as other schools in parishes of the province. At St. Francis Seraph, they were also assisted by lay teachers.
Beginning in 1882, the brothers were incorporated into the Province, and became members of the First Order. Their work as a group was eventually phased out, and by 1915, only St. Francis Seraph School was being supervised by the brothers, a responsibility which ended three years later.
When, according to the arrangement of 1891, the girls of the parish also began to attend St. Francis Seraph School, the parish needed to find a home for the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, Indiana, who were to teach them. A house on Liberty Street was purchased for this purpose.
St. Francis Seraph and St. John Determine Separate Boundaries
The close historical relationship between St. John and St. Francis Seraph Parishes often made it impossible to determine parish membership. Some parishioners deliberately evaded their duty to contribute to the support of church and school.
As a consequence, the pastors of St. Francis Seraph and St. John published an agreement in August which sets definite parish limits. The agreement specified that “each member of the two parishes must attach himself either to St. John or St. Francis congregation. Anyone can consider himself belonging to that parish in whose church he has a seating, no matter where he lives. Families that have no seatings in either of the churches belong to the parish in whose district they reside.”
Both parishes would maintain their own parish schools for both boys and girls, and parents were required to send their children to the school of the parish to which the parents belonged. St. Francis Seraph School, as a consequence of this arrangement, began serving both boys and girls from St. Francis Seraph Parish.
A New School Building
During the 18-year pastorate of Father Edmund Klein, St. Francis Seraph Parish celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1908 and witnessed a remarkable transformation. A new school, friary and a major renovation of the church would mark the term of the parish’s longest-serving pastor to date.
Much of his work remains visible today—a tribute to the remarkable friar who would spend most of his priestly ministry at Liberty and Vine, serving in province leadership as well as guardian of the friary and pastor of the parish. However, it was Father Edmund’s predecessor, an equally dynamic friar-preacher, Father Chrysostom Theobald, who would pave the way for the first major expansion through a new parish school.
For many years the school building had become too small for the needs of the parish. After the first St. Francis Gymnasium was built in 1867, the rooms and little hall in the school building formerly used by the seminary students were gradually absorbed by the growing number of school children.
During the 1890s, houses were purchased to provide classrooms for girls, but such makeshift solutions were not practical in the long run. The rooms had poor ventilation and too little protection against fire.
So, under the supervision of Father Chrysostom Theobald, a new building was planned to supplement the existing structure. Choosing the best location proved difficult: Should be built east or west of Vine Street? After long deliberation, it became clear that the only solution was to have the new building as close as possible to the old.
It took the entire ten-year pastorate of Father Chrysostom to obtain the necessary property, lacking only one piece, which fortunately was obtained shortly before the new school was begun. The parish spent $45,000 to acquire the land.
By 1906, a building fund was slowly accu¬mulating. The building committee chose Mr. Anthony Kunz as architect, and construction on the new school began on June 1st. It took almost two years to complete.
The three-story building fronts on Liberty Street and extends eighty feet down Moore Street. It is a fireproof construction of concrete, tan pressed brick, sandstone and steel. An imposing entrance on Liberty Street gives access to a large auditorium equipped with a stage and space for parish social activities. The school also originally contained living quarters for the sisters who taught in the school.
The building was dedicated on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 19, 1908. Archbishop Henry Moeller officiated and gave on address in English. Father Chrysostom Theobald, at that time provincial minister, gave an eloquent sermon in German. Prior to the school’s opening in the fall of 1908, it hosted the National Catholic Educational Association’s annual meeting in July.
After the new school was completed, the repurposing of the old building became the parish’s focus. The former school was thoroughly remodeled and adapted into a multi-purpose parish center. The first floor held meeting rooms for parish societies, a recreation room for the older Sodality members and a room for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. On the second floor there was a sewing room, another for choir practice and a classroom for boys. The large hall on the third floor was converted into a fully equipped gymnasium. Separate entrances were constructed for the gym and recreational rooms. The heating plant for both the new and old school building was located in the basement.
To break up the monotony of the front of the old structure, a small tower was erected in the middle, the lower part of which served as the main entrance to the building. In time, the former school building became known as the “Seraph Building.” It served the parish well for many years, until it was finally torn down in 1970.