In 1860, even before the St. Francis Seraph School was built, a unique plan was devised to make its parish school and that of its mother parish, St. John’s, two blocks away, inter-parochial. Under the presidency of Franciscan Father Otto Jair, O.F.M and with approval from Cincinnati Archbishop Purcell, St. Francis Seraph School was planned and built on a site on Vine Street opposite the church. Boys would attend St. Francis Seraph and girls would attend St. John.
St. Francis Seraph was a three-story school building was 98 feet long and 42 feet wide, with a 44 by 28 foot-wide annex. The two lower floors contained classrooms, while the large “St. Francis Hall” occupied the entire third floor. This hall was originally used as a chapel for the school children and later as a meeting place for the numerous societies. The building was finished and ready for use at the opening of the school term in 1861.
The first teachers in the school had been the Brothers of the Holy Cross who taught until the year 1871. They were often assisted by priests and student friars in residence at the friary. In 1872, a community of German Xaverian Brothers in Louisville were invited to come to Cincinnati and establish a new community that commonly became known as the “Teaching Brothers.” 1891, the girls of the parish began to attend St. Francis Seraph School, bringing the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, Indiana, to teach them.
A New School Building
During the 18-year pastorate of Franciscan Father Edmund Klein, O.F.M., St. Francis Seraph Parish celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1908 and witnessed a remarkable transformation. A new school, friary and a major renovation of the church would mark the term of the parish’s longest-serving pastor to date.
Much of his work remains visible today—a tribute to the remarkable friar who would spend most of his priestly ministry at Liberty and Vine, serving in province leadership as well as guardian of the friary and pastor of the parish. However, it was Father Edmund’s predecessor, an equally dynamic friar-preacher, Father Chrysostom Theobald, O.F.M. who would pave the way for the first major expansion through a new parish school.
For many years the school building had become too small for the needs of the parish. After the first St. Francis Gymnasium was built in 1867, the rooms and little hall in the school building formerly used by the seminary students were gradually absorbed by the growing number of school children.
During the 1890’s, houses were purchased to provide classrooms for girls, but such makeshift solutions were not practical in the long run. The rooms had poor ventilation and too little protection against fire.
So, under the supervision of Father Chrysostom Theobald, O.F.M., a new building was planned to supplement the existing structure. Choosing the best location proved difficult: Should the school be built east or west of Vine Street? After long deliberation, it became clear that the only solution was to have the new building as close as possible to the old.
In the Spring of 1908, The three-story building on Liberty & Moore Streets was dedicated. Its fireproof construction of concrete, tan pressed brick, sandstone and steel provided a large auditorium equipped with a stage and space for parish social activities. The school also originally contained living quarters for the sisters who taught in the school.