Our Rich History: Two early residents left educational legacy in Northern Kentucky and beyond

By David E. Schroeder
Special to NKyTribune

Education in Northern Kentucky has a long and interesting history. The earliest schools in the region were begun by parents who were looking for an education for their children. These early schools charged a fee or tuition to pay a teacher to conduct classes. Beginning in the 1830s, both the public and parochial schools in Northern Kentucky began to take root. These early schools existed due to the dedication and perseverance of teachers. Two of these early Northern Kentucky educators, Asa Drury and Mother Mary Lucy C.D.P., left a legacy that continues to this day.

Born on July 26, 1802, at Athol, Massachusetts, Asa Drury graduated from Yale University in 1829. He remained at Yale for another two years as an instructor. In 1831, Drury decided to study for the ministry. He was ordained a Baptist minister in the following year.

Asa Drury. Courtesy of the Kenton County Public Library, Covington, KY.

Drury seemed to suffer from wanderlust. For the next four decades, he moved west seeking new opportunities. His first move was to Granville, Ohio where he taught Greek and Latin at Denison University. In 1835, he made another move – this time to Cincinnati, where he taught at Cincinnati College (a forerunner of the University of Cincinnati).

In 1845, Drury moved to the south side of the Ohio River to the growing little community of Covington. He was attracted to the city by the newly established Western Baptist Theological Institute (WBTI). WBTI was a seminary and classical academy for young men. Drury taught Theology in the seminary program and was the lead teacher in the classical school attached to the seminary.

Drury’s next career move placed him in the public-school realm for the first time. In 1853, he left the WBTI to teach and administer the Covington Public High School as its first principal. On January 26, 1856, he was named the first Superintendent of the Covington Public School System. His work laid the foundation for the Covington Independent School District.

Drury’s work as superintendent was exemplary, as indicated by the several raises he received from the school board. These raises, however, violated the charter of the school system. As a result, In 1859, the members of the board reduced his salary in order to be in compliance with the charter. Drury immediately resigned. That same year he re-established the Judsonia Female Seminary in the city. Drury remained in Covington until 1865, when he moved west again to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take up another teaching position. He died in Minneapolis on March 18, 1870.

Sister Marie Lucie Damidio, Americanized in the United States as Sister Mary Lucy Damidio, was another earlier pioneer educator in Northern Kentucky and the Commonwealth. Mother Lucy had been born in the city of Abreschville, in the French-speaking province of Lorraine. Here she took vows as a Sister of Divine Providence at St. Jean de Bassel Convent. In 1889, at the age of 24, she volunteered to be one of the three pioneer sisters to begin work in the Diocese of Covington in Newport, Kentucky. The Sisters of Divine Providence came to Kentucky at the request of Bishop Camillus P. Maes. Here they established Mt. St. Martin Academy in Newport (later Our Lady of Providence Academy) and staffed numerous parochial schools, primarily in Campbell and Kenton Counties.

Sister Lucy spent her early years in Northern Kentucky teaching in the classroom. In 1898, she was named the first assistant to the mother superior. In 1909, she was called to lead the American branch of the congregation as superior.

Mother Lucy. Source: Website of the Sisters of Divine Providence of Kentucky.

During her term as superior, Mother Lucy agreed to staff many new Catholic schools in Northern Kentucky. Mother Lucy also oversaw the construction of St. Anne Convent in Melbourne as the motherhouse of the American Province. Further, she introduced the sisters as co-sponsors and faculty at Villa Madonna College when it became a diocesan institution in 1928. Her real impact, however, would be in the Appalachian Mountain region of Kentucky.

In 1908, the sisters agreed to staff Sacred Heart Elementary School in Corbin Kentucky. This was the sisters’ first presence in the mountain region of the diocese. Sacred Heart Parish was quite small and found it difficult to maintain their school. In 1915, under the direction of Mother Lucy, the sisters decided to establish St. Camillus Academy in Corbin. The academy offered a day and boarding school program covering the elementary and high school grades in a brand-new building designed by Newport architect David Davis. The academy became an immediate success and drew both Catholic and Protestant students from throughout the region.

Buoyed by the success of St. Camillus Academy, the sisters established St. Agatha Academy in Winchester in 1918. Like the Corbin Academy, St. Agatha was open to students of all denominations and provided a classical curriculum that was unavailable in this region at the time. From these two institutions, the sisters expanded their reach into the mountains and established hospitals in Lexington, Martin and Jenkins and agreed to staff schools in a number of Eastern Kentucky communities. The sisters also set up summer religious education programs in many mountain communities where no Catholic school existed.

Mother Mary Lucy died on January 4, 1937, having served as a Sister of Divine Providence in Kentucky for 48 years. She is laid to rest at St. Anne Convent Cemetery in Melbourne. Much of the Catholic school system in the Appalachian region of Kentucky can be attributed to the work of the Sisters of Divine Providence and Mother Lucy.

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 co-editor of Gateway City: Covington, Kentucky, 1815-2015 (2015).

One thought on “Our Rich History: Two early residents left educational legacy in Northern Kentucky and beyond

  1. Thank you so very much for theNKytribune I read it a lot and some hoping to find some day information on a school in Covington ky
    The name was the Richards Instaute of music it was on west 11th st off of Madison ave. My mom went there back in or about 1916 to 1920 the house is still standing but the school now is a parking lot.
    Across the street was a elec.store.
    I loved to see pictures or any thing about the school or the history of it.
    Thank you very much for any help with this.

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