It was probably in 1809, when the Richmond township had only about 300 people, that Father Stephen T. Badin said the first Mass in Richmond. Subsequently, numerous mission and circuit-rider priests visited the area on horseback to say Mass at the Madison County Court House or in Catholic homes that served as “mission stations” in those pioneer days when Richmond was still a part of the Diocese of Bardstown, one of the first four Catholic dioceses created in the United States after the original diocese at Baltimore, MD. The other three were New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Prior to 1850 the Richmond mission area included seven counties–Lee, Rockcastle, Jackson, Estill, Owsley, Garrard and Madison. When the Diocese of Covington was formed in 1853, the Richmond community began to be served by priests from Lexington and Mt. Sterling. The number of Catholics in Madison County grew to 150 baptized persons.
On October 1, 1860, the trustees of the Richmond Catholic community purchased a lot for a church to be built on North Second Street. The house on this lot became the usual place of worship. Then, in 1865 the property had to be sold because of financial problems. The sale, however, enabled the purchase of the lot on West Main Street which is the site of the present church.
The original frame church, built on the Main Street lot, was dedicated by Bishop George A. Carroll in 1867. It served as a nucleus for the mission effort in the central Mountain counties with Father Michael Callaghan appointed as the first resident pastor in 1874. Father Callaghan also served as superior of the missionaries in this area. Following him were Fathers Francis J. Donnelly, John J. McQuinley, Edward Healy, Joseph Merschmann and William Punch. It was while Father Punch was saying Mass on All Soul’s Day, 1906, that the frame church caught fire and burned to the ground.
The present stone church was then completed and when Bishop Maes dedicated it on December 13, 1908, he said, “This church is a stone structure of simple architectural beauty . . . a substantial monument to the faith and sacrifice of the Catholics of Richmond that will stand for generations to come.” As a tribute to their faith, the small community had rallied to the cause with great effort and generosity.
Father Punch was succeeded by Father Thomas D. Cooney, a talented young priest whose career was cut short by an untimely death. After six months of being served again by priests from Lexington, Father John F. O’Dwyer became pastor of Richmond in 1910. In 1911, a new pastoral residence was completed and under the guidance of Father O’Dwyer, parish life was greatly enhanced by the establishment of a Holy Name Society, Altar Society, Young Ladies’ Sodality and the Children of Mary Sodality. Only the Altar Society remains today and sponsors an annual Christmas bazaar to help fund liturgical supplies.
Following Father O’Dwyer were Father George O’Bryan and Father William Curry before Father Henry Schulte came in 1916. Bishop Ferdinand Brossart was present to celebrate St. Mark’s Golden Jubilee on October 21, 1917, along with 35 registered families. Monsignor Oscar L. Poole, who became pastor September 15, 1930, served Richmond for 38 of his 48 years of priesthood. On retirement at age 83, he was asked why he chose to remain in Richmond so long and he replied, “Heaven and Hell are just as close to Richmond as anywhere else!” Senior parishioners hold many fond memories of him and they continue to tell stories about events during his time.
In January, 1941, a fire badly damaged the entire interior of the church. While the extensive repairs were being made, the congregation met for Mass in an auditorium at what was then called Eastern Kentucky State Teachers’ College.
For the time prior to 1948, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth had been coming to Richmond on Saturdays to conduct catechism classes for the children. In September, 1948, the Sisters of Our Lady of Victory from Victory-Noll, Huntington, Indiana, opened a Catechetical Center at Richmond. In the early 1960’s Father John McGuire, who was Father Poole’s assistant at the time, talked to three parishioners about starting a school. Those three – Colonel Phil Brady, Karl Kuhn and William Manz – approached Monsignor Poole and Bishop Richard Ackerman of Covington to get permission to build a Catholic school. Their determined efforts came to fruition with the dedication of St. Mark Catholic School on November 5, 1966.
In June, 1968, after 38 years as pastor of St. Mark, Monsignor Poole submitted his resignation to Bishop Ackerman, who then appointed Father John Werner as pastor. Monsignor Poole remained in retirement at St. Mark and at age 83, after numerous bouts with serious illness, he began saying Mass only when he felt like it, worked with the trees and plants on the church property, and did other little jobs in the church and yard. Father McGuire stayed on as associate pastor of St. Mark and chaplain of the Newman Club until Father Ronald Kettler came in 1970 to carry on the Newman Center apostolate. Father Werner directed the changes inside the church to comply with the directives of Vatican Council II.
During Father Charles M. Garvey’s pastorate from 1973-83, parishioners participated in the Catholic Renew Program which is familiar to many dioceses in the country. Father Raymond Stratman, who served from July, 1983-1989, brought about a significant reduction in the parish debt and the renovation of the church to accommodate more people with new pews and reduced sanctuary space.
St. Mark became a part of the newly-formed Catholic Diocese of Lexington in 1988. Bishop J. Kendrick Williams installed, as the first Ordinary of the new diocese, appointed St. Mark’s first permanent deacon. Deacon Dick Jackson and his wife Madeline were welcomed in May, 1988.
To accommodate the shortage of priests, the parish council of St. Mark and the St. Stephen-Newman Center community recommended an innovative move to share one pastor. Father Greg Schuler, then pastor of the St. Stephen Parish, was appointed by Bishop Williams in 1990 to serve both parishes. Deacon Jackson was named administrator of St. Mark and Sister Clara Fehringer, O.S.U., was appointed as administrator of the Newman Center.
The increasing number of Catholics in the area required additional worship space and expanded school facilities. Because of its historical significance and sentimental value, the original stone church was retained and used as an architectural model for the new church which was dedicated August 30, 1998, shortly after Father Patrick Stewart bacame pastor. Along with the new church were added three new classrooms for the St. Mark Middle School, new kitchen facilities, and a gym.
The old church, now serving as a gathering space, is used for people to congregate and form a feeling of community as they enter the new space to worship as one body in Christ. Upon entering from either the Main Street entrance or the main hallway from the parking lot, all pass the new, large circular baptismal font in the center of this gathering space.
The placement of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the old church, where Eucharist had been celebrated since 1908, is another example of blending the old with the new. The semi-circular wall with several glass panels allows people, outside the chapel as well as on the inside, to see the lavishly refurbished tabernacle which was part of the main high altar before it was removed to implement the changes of Vatican Council II. The pedestal on which the tabernacle sits was designed by Omni and constructed/donated by parishioner Keith Rost. By placing the tabernacle in a special room, away from the main worship space, emphasis is placed on the Eucharistic Sacrifice which brings Christ physically present to the people and makes them one with each other and one with Christ. The tabernacle is used to reserve Eucharist for distribution to the sick and homebound, and the chapel may be used for private devotion and for small prayer services.
St. Stephen Newman Center
In 1936 a freshman, Virginia Perraut, working in the Dean’s office realized there were many Catholics on campus at Eastern Kentucky University; but they had no club to call their own. Gathering her information, she approached President Donovan and asked permission to establish a Catholic Club on campus. Without hesitation, he gave his permission provided a faculty sponsor could be found. In 1936, there were no Catholic men or women on the faculty at the University. The students went to the local high school and found a young lady to be their sponsor, a Miss McCarthy. During these early years and into the 1950’s and 1960’s, students gathered in the Old University Building and attended Mass at St. Mark. Father John McGuire, chaplain of the Newman Center Club for eight years in the 1960’s, was instrumental in the acquisition of the land that is the site of the current facility. In January of 1970, Father Ronald Kettler was named the first full-time chaplain at the EKU Newman Center, which in the same year had its first residence at 432 Oak Street.
Bishop Ackerman of the Covington Diocese allocated funds for Father Kettler to organize and supervise the building of the present facility in January, 1976. This facility was dedicated in September, 1977. At this time the Newman Center was established as the parish of St. Stephen the Martyr, named in memory of a former student and benefactor of this project, Stephen Potocsnak, who was killed in an automobile accident.
The Newman Center continued its growth through the 1980’s and 1990’s under the guidance of Fathers Paul Prabell, Greg Schuler, Ken Waibel, and Patrick Stewart, and Sisters Clara Fehringer and Eileen Golby.
Two Parishes Combined
As another step toward unity, St. Mark and St. Stephen were combined as one parish under the name of St. Mark Parish after Father Ken Waibel came in 1994. He appointed Elaine Caldwell as pastoral associate. Father Waibel was succeeded by Father Patrick Stewart in 1998. In July 2004, St. Mark Parish welcomed Father James Sichko as pastor. Fr. Tom Farrell was named pastor of St. Mark in 2016 and continues today to lead the parish.