The Catholic families of early Harrison had to travel to Cincinnati, New Alsace, Dover, St. Leon and Lawrenceburg on primitive roads to celebrate the Sacraments and practice their religion. In the 1840’s, the German and Irish Catholic families began gathering at John Goeble’s home. A visiting Franciscan Missionary would hold Mass once a month. The families spent years of tireless fund raising until 1851 when they purchased a large lot on Elm St. near Glen Haven Cemetery and built a small brick church with bells. Initially, the parishioners wished to have their church named St. Nicholas after the first pastor, Fr. Nicholas Wachter. Then in 1865, the Snow’s deeded one acre of land to the church to become the Catholic Cemetery.
In 1866, St. John’s was given their first resident priest, Fr. Desideratus Rombouts from Belgium. He proceeded to plan the design of a new church and purchased land at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Hill Street. The foundation was laid and Fr. Rombouts went back to Belgium to raise more funds for completion of the church. He was unable to realize the fruits of his labors due to his untimely death on February 27, 1869.
Growth continued including a school in 1872. However, in 1876, Fr. Gebhard Egger tore down the school and residence, and built a larger church and school. In 1891, Fr. Bernard Moeller who became pastor built a new 3-story school to accommodate the growing school needs, and to house the Sisters of Charity who came in 1894 to teach the children of St. John’s. The parish continued to grow and change with the rest of the world through World War I. Then in 1921, St. John’s received permission from the Archbishop to build the third and current church. The lot on Hill Street and Park Avenue was purchased and the work began. It was completed in 1922 and dedicated by Archbishop Moeller on November 5th of that same year. A pipe organ was installed in 1924; and in 1925, a new parochial dwelling was built to go with the church. In 1926, St. John’s recognized its diamond jubilee with a High Mass celebrated by Rev. Msgr. Bernard Moeller with Archbishop McNicholas presiding. In the years following, the parish experienced a slow but steady growth. The reputation of a fine education by the school also brought families to the parish. In 1941 land adjoining the school was purchased. The church was redecorated and plans were begun for the building of a new school. In 1953, Archbishop Carl Alter gave permission for the construction of a new school and the purchase of an adjoining piece of property. The school was dedicated on October 30, 1955. However, by 1965 there was already a need for more classrooms. The meeting hall (old church) and old school were taken down, and in 1966 the cornerstone was laid. The rectory and convent were remodeled. Then on October 15, 1967, all of the buildings of St. John’s were open to the public. The Warburgs donated an additional 1.33 acres of land to the Catholic Cemetery.
During the 1970’s, the demographics of Harrison began to change dramatically with the completion of I-74 and the I-275 loop around Cincinnati. The community became more accessible and development began in earnest. Fr. Schriml left St. John’s in 1971 and was followed by Fr. Andres. Many associates also served St. John’s during the 70’s including Fr. Hasselhoff, Fr. Rodriquez, Fr. Smith and Fr. Lynch. In 1977, Fr. Mark Gratsch was appointed pastor with Fr. George Kunkel the associate. The cemetery was expanded again and a major renovation of the church began. In addition, another new school building was constructed and named in honor of Sr. Marie Vianney Geil, who had served the school as principal for many years. The parish celebrated growth, but remained intent on preserving traditions.
Father Edward J. Shine became St. John the Baptist's pastor in the summer of 1988 and served until his retirement in 2008. During those years, St. John the Baptist continued to grow. Father Shine began the R.C.I.A. process at St. John. To date, over 350 persons have been initiated into the Catholic Church through this program. Four parcels of property were purchased to make for additional parking and playground. A house was purchased on Harrison Avenue for high school youth gatherings and additional office space. Continuing St. John the Baptist long history of mission focus, parish twinning relationships were established with Santa Cruz Parish in El Salvador and Holy Cross in Jackson, Kentucky. In 2001, St. John’s Church received a face-lift with new interior painting and carpeting. On October 14, 2001, Father Shine, along with Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, and other priests, celebrated St. John the Baptist’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary Mass. After his Golden Jubilee in 2007 and his retirement in 2008, Father Shine established residence in Harrison where he continues to serve the parish as needed. Father Bill Dorrmann joined the St. John's family after his retirement in 2001 and continues to assist the parish in many ways.
Father Jeffery M. Kemper, became our pastor on July 1st, 2008 and served until June 30, 2022. He came to St. John the Baptist after serving 17 years at the Athenauem of Ohio/Mt. St. Mary's Seminary. There are 305 students in our day school from preschool through eighth grade. There are also over 230 students in our Parish School of Religion (P S R) preschool through eighth grade. We currently have over 1,400 active families and encourage you to become an active member of our parish if you are not already. Together we look to the years ahead with the hope of God’s continued blessings.