A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Remembering one of NKy’s forgotten high schools – St. James, Ludlow

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

We often think of schools as having a permanence about them. Once they are established, they last for generations. This is always not the case; schools sometimes live a short life and cease to exist. One such institution was St. James High School in Ludlow.

Following the First World War, Northern Kentucky experienced a dramatic increase in the establishment of Catholic high schools. Holy Cross, St. Henry, Newport Catholic, Covington Latin and Covington Catholic all emerged during this era.

Church courtyard with high school classroom in the rear. This classroom is now used as a daily Mass chapel. (Photo courtesy of Dave Schroeder.)

Catholics had become more prosperous and began sending their children in large numbers to high school. Bishop Francis W. Howard, an active leader in the National Catholic Education Association, encouraged this trend.

In Ludlow, two Catholic elementary schools existed, St. Boniface and St. James. In 1928. Father Clement Bocklage was appointed the pastor of St. James Parish. Father Bocklage believed that the children of Ludlow deserved a Catholic secondary education in their city and began immediate plans to establish such a school. He may have been a bit over ambitious. He arrived in the spring and made it clear that St. James High School would open in September.

Father Bocklage’s first hurdle was to build a faculty. He contacted the mother superior of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who were staffing St. James Grade School, for additional sisters for the high school. The sisters turned down the request – they simply didn’t have the time or sisters to fill the need.

At this time, Catholic high schools in Northern Kentucky were staffed almost exclusively by women religious, male religious and priests. St. James would be different. Father made a rather unorthodox decision for this era and decided that since he could not obtain sisters, lay teachers would provide the backbone of the faculty. He hired Miss Mary Ruth Kelley, a graduate of Xavier University with a degree in education, to serve as principal. Her salary was $850 that first year.

First Graduating Class (1932) with first principal, Mary Ruth Kelley. (Courtesy of Dave Schroeder.)

St. James High School now needed classrooms. The parish elementary was not large and was full. Father gathered the men of the parish together and proposed the construction of a two-classroom building attached to the east side of the church. The parishioners raised the money and the building went up quickly.

With a prayer, a tiny faculty and two classrooms, St. James High School opened in September 1928. The student body was coed and in the early years was comprised primarily of students from St. James and St. Boniface Parishes. The school began with a freshman class and each year added another grade. As the school grew, more classroom space was needed. Father Bocklage turned the first floor of the parish rectory over to the high school, thus providing four additional classrooms. The school colors were green and white, in homage to the parish’s Irish roots.

On June 5, 1932, diplomas were presented to six young ladies – the first graduating class of St. James High School: Eileen Reardon, Marian Hamilton, Ida Belding, Mary Margaret Lindsay, Catherine Mary Driscoll and Lucille Lenahan. That same year the school was accredited as a Class “A” high school by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Early members of the faculty included: Louis Hellebusch, Daniel Powers, Charles Howard, A. Hohnhorst, Angeline Uhrig, John Bloom, Bernadette Allgeyer, and Ruth Melke. John “Jack” Fogarty also served on the faculty, teaching English. Fogarty eventually enjoyed a long career on WCPO Radio and Television and was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and Radio Free Europe. Occasionally a priest of the Diocese taught in the school. One of these was Father Paul Brophy.

Commencement Program, 1946. (Courtesy of Dave Schroeder.)

Despite educating a very small student body, the school maintained a diverse classical curriculum. History, Science, English and Religion were mainstays. In addition, classes in Sociology, Home Economics, French, Latin and Spanish were also taught. The school maintained a chemistry laboratory and a library of over a thousand volumes.

In 1933, enrollment stood at 47; by 1937, enrollment had increased to 95. This growth resulted in the need for more and better qualified teachers. These were the years of the Great Depression and many students were unable to pay the full tuition, which was $35 per year. St. James Parish was making up the shortfall in the school’s budget. In 1940, Father Bocklage wrote a letter to Bishop Howard requesting that the school change its name and become an interparochial school supported by the surrounding parishes.

By this time, students were being drawn from St. James and Boniface Parishes in Ludlow and St. Ann, Mother of God, St. Aloysius and St. Patrick Parishes in Covington. Bishop Howard, however, had other plans. He was encouraging young men in the area to attend either Covington Catholic or Covington Latin and for the young ladies to attend one of the various academies in the region. Despite Father Bocklage’s failed attempt, he continued to support the school.

Letters earned by Charilie Manning, Class of 1948. (Courtesy of Kelly Manning Williamson)

To  keep costs down, Father Bocklage made another attempt to secure the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth to join the faculty. This time, the Sisters of Charity agreed. The faculty for the 1942-43 school year consisted of Sr. Jean Carrigan, principal, Sr. Maureen Lyons, Sr. Mary Alonza O’Flaherty, Father Bocklage and Father Paul Ranft. In 1944, a fourth Sister of Charity joined the faculty.

Despite the efforts of Father Bocklage and the parishioners of St. James, the high school enrollment declined. Enrollment dropped from 83 in 1945 to 59 in 1947. Father Clement Bocklage passed away on January 19, 1947. He had been the true guiding force of the St. James High School. His successor, Father Leo Egbring, arrived in February of that same year. After consultation with the Diocese, the decision was made to close the school at the end of the 1947-48 school year.

The last graduating class consisted of: Robert Drahman, William Hebbeler, Robert Hawley, James Johnson, Frank Lyons, Charles Manning, Leroy Niehaus, Catherine Pollard and Frank Schroeder. The remaining students transferred to nearby schools. Many of the young women went to La Salette or one of the other local academies. Many of the young men found themselves in a difficult situation. Covington Catholic High School was overcrowded and could only accept a few additional students; many of the remainder were welcomed at Newport Catholic High School.

St. James High School existed for only two decades. The school educated 447 students, several who went on to become priests and nuns. Others joined the professions or started their own businesses. Despite their small numbers and rudimentary facilities, the school nurtured young minds and hearts and had a lasting impact on the community.

David E. Schroeder is Director of the Kenton County Public Library, the author of Life Along the Ohio: A Sesquicentennial History of Ludlow, Kentucky (2014), and coeditor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

St. James Church, now Sts. Boniface and James Church. Courtesy of Dave Schroeder.

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