A recent article at the Cincinnati Enquirer introduced many around the country to a newly established parish in Park Hills, Kentucky. Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, located within the Diocese of Covington, was established in 2016 following the purchase of a former Protestant church by the Missionaries of Saint John the Baptist. As noted at their site, the Missionaries were formed:
To work toward the establishment of a new religious Institute of Diocesan Right within the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky under the authority of the Bishop, and…
To establish a community in which common religious life is lived in a more disciplined and traditional way including the celebration of the liturgy according to the usus antiquior of the Roman Rite, with the liturgical books of 1962 being normative.
The success of the newly formed parish is due in no small part to the charism and preaching of the founding priests of the Missionaries, Fr. Shannon Collins, MSJB and Fr. Sean Kopczynski, MSJB. Both men are nationally recognized for their teaching, preaching, and traditional parish retreats.
In the year since Bishop Roger Foys of Covington consecrated the new parish, attendance has more than doubled at the second of their two Sunday morning Masses. On some weekends as many as 250 fill the pews. This is significant growth for Our Lady of Lourdes, which began with only 20-30 families, and is the only Latin Mass exclusive parish in the Diocese of Covington.
Consistent with other traditional communities around the country is the make up of the parishioners. On any given Sunday a visitor to the parish will find the pews filled with large, young, Catholic families. According to a recent report, as many as 98% of registered families home school their children, with many of those also participating in an educational co-op. To ensure the quality and orthodoxy of the program, only priests and educated laity instruct the young.
The result of this commitment to tradition has also resulted in some families picking up roots and relocating to Kentucky. Some have moved from as far away as Florida, Texas, and even Mexico.
Of course, as with any success realized, there is also criticism. A recent article at the Cincinnati Enquirer (Park Hills is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) seeks to paint the parish as being in conflict with the community. While there is some controversy surrounding the building of a proposed grotto (inspired by the original found in Lourdes, France), an official statement from the parish has sought to allay concerns over issues such as traffic, parking, and size.
Another effort even went so far as to hype a story from a same-sex couple claiming that a bumper sticker on a parishioner’s car (which read, “Male and Female He created Them -Genesis 1:27”) was intended to harass. The couple, who prominently fly a rainbow flag on their front porch, contend that the bumper sticker said something more offensive. As parishioners point out, the car (which belongs to neighbor of the men) still has the bumper sticker on it, and could have simply been verified by interested news media seeking to clarify. Ofcourse the key word is interested.
Where there is no controversy, however, is with the very Catholicity of the church, its parishioners, and the community. Simply put, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati are very Catholic. Largely made up of third and fourth generation immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Italy, Catholicism is well represented in the area.
Park Hills, Kentucky may have as many as 50-60% Catholics. The city is also home to both Notre Dame Academy, the only all girls Catholic high school in the diocese, and Covington Catholic High School, an all boys school. Just up Dixie Highway, past these two schools, lies St. Agnes Catholic Church. Though it only offers the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the parish has been nothing but welcoming to their new neighbors.
Traditional Catholicism is also well represented in the tri-state area. Cincinnati is home to at least three Sunday Latin Masses (located at Sacred Heart, Holy Family, and Old St. Mary’s). Northern Kentucky is even home to a Society of St. Pius X chapel and even a SSPV sedevacanist community. It is in this setting, with all of these available traditional Masses, that Our Lady of Lourdes is thriving. Unlike other parts of the country, where traditional parishes can be hard to come by, some families are driving past other Latin Masses, and sometimes several hours, for a fully traditional parish committed to offering all of the sacraments in the old Rite.
This then is the story of Our Lady of Lourdes in Park Hills. Recent efforts to portray the parish as intolerant of its neighbors, or viewed with suspicion by the community, are simply disproportionate and incorrect. Tradition is indeed thriving in northern Kentucky, and for this we should all be grateful. Deo gratias!
(I would like to thank Maria Merklin for her significant contribution to this post).
Photo credit: The Enquirer/Meg Vogel