About Catholicism

History of the Roman Catholic Church in Western Kentucky

The history begins in the early 19th century with the arrival of pioneers from Maryland and elsewhere during the westward expansion of the United States. These pioneers brought with them a fierce love of the Catholic faith, clerical reverence, and a strong lay initiative. Parishes were established throughout the Kentucky countryside, served by dedicated missionary priests and religious sisters, focused on faithful community life and the education of children.

The growth of the Catholic Church in all of Kentucky led to the necessity for Rome to divide the Diocese of Louisville into separate dioceses. On December 9, 1937, Pope Pius XI issued a Papal Bull creating the Diocese of Owensboro. This new diocese would be made up of 32 counties in Western Kentucky and Reverend Francis R. Cotton was named its first bishop.

In this appointment, Bishop Cotton was charged with establishing the functions of the diocese and uniting the parishes of Western Kentucky under one fold. He took to his new position with vigor and made Catholic education his priority. At the time of Bishop Cotton’s death in1960, the Catholic population of the diocese grew by 50 percent.

The Most Reverend Henry J. Soenneker, appointed March 10, 1961, retired June 30, 1982, was the second Bishop of Owensboro.

The Most Reverend John J. McRaith, appointed October 23, 1982, served as the third Bishop of Owensboro. Bishop McRaith resigned for health reasons January 5, 2009.

The Most Reverend William Francis Medley was appointed December 15, 2009 to serve as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro. Bishop Medley was ordained to the episcopacy on February 10, 2010.

To learn more about the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.