St. Francis Church

Historical marker number 1593, resides in present-day Georgetown and commemorates one of the earliest Catholic establishments in Kentucky, St. Francis de Sales Church. Early Catholic settlers from Maryland seeking religious and political freedom arrived in 1786, establishing a holy mission for the Eastern region of the territory in White Sulphur Springs. They built their first church on the 200-acre site in 1793. St. Francis de Sales's initial structure was no more than a log cabin, housing services for the few Catholic families that lived nearby. While St. Francis was the second Catholic parish developed in Kentucky, on December 1, 1793, it was the first one to hold Mass.

The original church was built to welcome one of the state's first Priests, Stephen Badin. In May 1793, Father Badin was the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States. Along with Father Barrières, Badin made his way from Pittsburg to Kentucky, walking over land and sailing down the Ohio River on a flatboat to serve the Mission of Kentucky. However, only Father Badin remained, riding and walking the circuit to provide religious rites to scattered Catholic Kentuckians. In his tenure as Kentucky's singular priest, Father Badin rode an estimated 100,000 miles to perform duties for the 300 or more Catholic families of the region. He served the Mission of Kentucky until his departure to France in 1819.

In 1820, due to swelling membership, the Dominicans built a permanent church they named St. Pius, called that until 1932. Its construction cost the congregation $3,600. The fees were paid out mostly in trade goods. Constructed using a Basilica style and Tudor influences, the church still has many of its original elements, including a sanctuary-wide kneeler and doors. The original elements were recently restored to their 1820 condition.

The property, at one time, also included a seminary, which was closed during the Civil War. Mount Admirabilis, a convent and a parish school for girls run by the Sisters of Visitation, was opened on the site in 1875. Later, this order moved to their service to the property at Cardome in 1896, then called Visitation Academy (Historical Marker 718). The cemetery at St. Francis, is the final resting place for many of the Nuns, along with many others.

The St. Francis Cemetery is situated across the road from the church and is the only Catholic churchyard in Scott County. Alongside the Sisters rest several Priests and Bishops. Other people buried there include early members of the parish and soldiers of the Revolutionary War, Bennett Greenwell and James Twyman. After the Civil War, people often buried there were positioned facing North or South, depending upon their wartime allegiance.

Today, the church, cemetery, and farmhouse sit on 11 acres. Priests still serve Catholic members of the surrounding Georgetown community with weekly Mass. At one time, the sanctuary sat underused and withering, with only two families in attendance. As of 2020, the parish serves more than 600 families.

The marker reads:

The oldest parish in Covington Diocese, this was a pioneer mission center for East Kentucky. Parish, second oldest in the state, was formed by Maryland settlers who arrived in 1786. First church built circa 1794; resident pastor was Reverend Stephen Theodore Badin, first priest ordained in U.S. Present church constructed in 1820 at a cost of $3,600.

(Reverse) St. Francis Church - Dedicated to Francis de Sales. Four priests who served here became bishops: Edward Fenwick (1822), Guy Chatbrat (1834), F. P. Kenrick (Phila., 1830, and Balt., 1851) and F. Brossart (1915). Bishop G. A. Carrell, also pastor here, established first seminary of Diocese, 1856. Visitation nuns located school and convent here, 1875; moved to Cardome, 1896.