The Fenwick Club – The First of its KindFebruary 13th, 2019
Fr. Charles Baden was working as a chaplain for St. Mary’s Hospital, Cincinnati, in 1915. It was there he met many young men who were adrift in the word with no guidance. This gave him the idea to start young men’s residence and club similar to the YMCA, but Catholic in approach. In 1917, with the assistance of Miss Margaret McCabe, who founded the Sacred Heart Home for Women and the Cincinnati Boys Home, he met with Archbishop Henry Moeller who wholeheartedly approved of the idea. Within 3 weeks, they leased a building at 319 Broadway which quickly held 35 self-supporting young men. It was named the Fenwick Club after the first Bishop of Cincinnati, Edward Fenwick, O.P. The purpose was to provide companionship of faith, sympathy in misfortunes, counsel of a spiritual father, and to provide character and health building programs. This Catholic institution was the first of its kind for young men in the United States.
Parishes had, at the time, tried to do the same thing, but were too parochial and costly. The Archbishop declared the Fenwick an “extraterritorial mission,” independent of parishes. The Chapel had full parochial rights.
Because of his work in the short time of 6.5 years, Fr. Baden was awarded the title “Domestic Prelate” (Monsignor) by Pope Benedict XV, which was only 9 years after his ordination. He was the youngest monsignor in the country.
Shortly after opening, the Sisters of the Precious Blood arrived to take care of the domestic duties at the Fenwick Club. Almost immediately the Board of Directors and Fr. Baden realized they would need a new, much larger building. A new 9 story building, built in 1917, was located at Commercial Square, between 5th and 6th Street, east of Broadway. Just 4 years later, they built a 3 story annex building behind on 5th Street which housed 98 more residents.
These facilities included dining rooms and kitchens, a living room, auditorium/ ballroom, library, infirmary, suites for the executive secretary and the Archbishop, a roof garden, extensive gym facilities, and a chapel with chaplains’ quarters. The capacity was for around 300 men and eventually 100 boys who were housed in dormitories. These men were not only from the United States, but from all parts of the world.
The Athletic Club was a powerhouse of athletics in Cincinnati. It had a staff of 4 professionals as well as a pool, handball courts, boxing rings, a running track, bowling alley, weight room. It was open to non-resident men and boys. At one point it had a roster of over 2000 members and boxing was particularly popular. A quick perusal of the Cincinnati Enquirer sports pages from the 1920s to about 1960 shows thousands of articles about Fenwick teams. Several members were even Olympic hopefuls.
Other activities included lectures, dances, clubs, scout troops, and classes of various kinds.
In 1927, the impressive gothic Chapel of the Holy Spirit was built next to the annex on Fifth Street. It was tall and narrow with canopied niches, a large tracery window, a stone and copper turret. There was a Biblical tableaux on the stone wall in the sanctuary and an altar of Carrera marble. The architect was Edward Schulte, who designed many churches in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and led the 1957 renovation of the Cathedral. It also housed 450 relics that was a gift of Monsignor Baden to the residents of the Fenwick Club.
In 1930, the University Branch of the Fenwick Club was founded. It was located at Clifton and Bryant in the former Windisch mansion and it provided living space for 30 University of Cincinnati students. There were no athletic facilities at this location.
By the time of the late 1970s, the upkeep was too expensive. The management tried various fundraising programs in an effort to not raise the rent on their residents. They had eliminated many services, such as the dining room facilities. Ultimately, they had no choice. Residents were moved and offices were relocated. In 1979, Proctor & Gamble purchased the properties and buildings with the intent of demolishing them for parking for their new headquarters. Currently, at the location, is the P&G towers and trellis in front of the P&G building, east of Broadway.
Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.