St. John Catholic Church’s history preserved in new book by local

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By Kristin Beck

What began as casual research into his family’s genealogical roots became a four-year project culminating in a 235-page book highlighting the rich history of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Carrollton.

Dr. John Smith, formerly of Carrollton, wrote “St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church,” which spans 1853-2013.

About 40-50 people attended a special book unveiling Sunday, March 3 at the parish hall. Father Kavungal Davy presented the book to Carrollton mayor Gene McMurry, who then gave it to long-time parishioner and music director Nancy Jo Grobmyer, who officially unveiled the book. McMurry also presented Smith with a key to the city.

Smith grew up in Carrollton, attended St. John’s Catholic School until eighth grade in 1968 and graduated from Carroll County High School in 1972. He graduated from Centre College in 1976 and graduated from UK Medical School in 1980. He had a surgical internship and practiced emergency medicine for 26 years.  He has worked part-time the last four years performing skin closures after dermatological surgeries and is the medical director for various paramedic services.

Smith is married, has three adult children and lives in Fort Mitchell, Ky.

Smith said he was doing some genealogical research on his family in 1999. He looked at various church records and found that St. John’s did not have a standalone history for the church. “I thought it might be interesting to do something like that.”

He also had developed an interest in Ecclesiastical architecture, which he tied in to the history of the church.

The book grew from there.

Smith approached Davy about the book in 2008. Smith had originally envisioned a 40- to 50-page booklet, but it eventually evolved into a 235-page book.

“My goal wasn’t to make a book and sell it on Amazon,” he said. “My goal was to research and produce this history and provide it as a succinct document.”

Smith said he originally intended to just give it away, but as it grew, he decided to ask for $5 to help cover the printing costs. The book is self-published; Smith has all of the copies. Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can contact the parish office at (502) 732-5776.

Smith said the parish directory has an edited version of St. John’s history that was based on a work called “Forget- me-Nots of Past and Present,” written by St. John’s priest Father Ignacious Ahmann in 1902. Smith writes that Ahmann referred to his work as “historical sketches.” It covers the history of Catholicism in Kentucky and features sermons from bishops and accounts of early missionaries in Kentucky. It also includes a chapter on the first 50 years of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.

For his book, Smith printed this chapter verbatim and footnoted it heavily to help readers grasp what was being said. He said he thought it would add some charm to the book.
Most of Smith’s information came from the well-preserved archives of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught at St. John’s for 97 years. He also researched information in old newspapers and microfilms and visited the Diocese of Covington archives.

Smith said he learned “all kinds of things all along the way.” He discovered that German immigrants founded the church. He studied Gothic architecture. He read about the cholera and small pox epidemics and the 1937 flood. “Every event that happened historically sparked my interest,” he said. “It became a study of overall history for me. That’s one reason it took about four years to produce this final document.”

Smith also discovered that his ancestors had been in Carrollton since St. John’s inception, giving his family direct ties to the parish. “For people in town that had that experience I did, I would think they would want to read a copy of it.”

Grobmyer said she believes the book is outstanding. “He did tremendous research. It’s very good, and everyone should have one.”

It is important to have history books like this because it gives people the opportunity to “relive some of our younger days and see old friends in pictures. I think it’s important to bring history alive again.”

Davy said Smith is a son of the parish and believes he is a great example of someone who has grown up and is giving back to the parish community for what they received. “I appreciate his hard work (and) his service.”

Davy said he especially enjoyed looking at the old photographs and letters that Smith collected from the archives, including photos of the current church’s construction, the former priests and church events. He said it is a reflection of the culture and way they communicated back then.

“It teaches us to keep all of the records for future generations instead of throwing them away,” Davy said. “I think they are very valuable.

“… I think this book helps the lifelong members remember the history and events of the past” and also is nice for the more recent and current members. It also helps us to remember “to thank God for the blessings we have received the last 160 years.”