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The Mother of the Church in Cincinnati

January 10th, 2017posted by Sarah L. Ater

Today’s blog was written by Mary Hennessey, volunteer in the Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

Sarah Worthington King Peter

Sarah Worthington King Peter

How does the Methodist daughter of an early settler and politician from Ohio become the “Mother of the Church of Cincinnati?” A shining example of  the “Feminine Genius” referenced by Pope John Paul II in  his Letter to Women is Sarah Worthington King Peter – a 19th century philanthropist from Cincinnati.

Sarah was born in 1800 in Chillicothe, Ohio at Adena Mansion.  Her father, Thomas Worthington, is known as the “Father of Ohio Statehood” and was one of the first senators from Ohio and the sixth governor of the state.  Sarah was one of ten children born to Thomas and his wife Eleanor.

Sarah had an excellent education in Kentucky and in Baltimore, Maryland.  At the age of 16,  she met and married Edward King, the son of Senator Rufus King of New York.  Sarah and Edward had 5 children together, two of whom survived to adulthood.

Sarah's father Thomas Worthington, sixth Governor of Ohio.

Sarah’s father Thomas Worthington, sixth Governor of Ohio.

They lived together in Chillicothe and eventually Cincinnati where Edward practiced law, became a legislator, and founded the Cincinnati Law School. When Edward died in 1836, Sarah moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to care for her two sons who were attending Harvard.  There, in 1844, Sarah met her second husband, William Peter, a member of the British diplomatic corps and former member of Parliament.

Since William was the British consul to the port of Philadelphia, Sarah moved there with him.  She became concerned with the situation of women and the poor who had no support.  It was socially unacceptable for women  to gain employment, so she began the  Philadelphia School of Art and Design to prepare them for work in new, modern industries. Because she was socially well-connected, she was able to solicit donations and publicity for this endeavor.  This institute eventually became the Moore College of Art and Design.

After William died in 1853, Sarah moved back to Cincinnati where she continued her charitable and philanthropic work.  She was one of the founders of the Ladies Academy of Fine Arts which was the forerunner of the Cincinnati Art Museum.  In that capacity, she also traveled to Europe  in 1854 on a trip to acquire more art work for the school.  Because of a financial downturn in the states, Sarah was unable to purchase much artwork for the academy.

While traveling from Marseilles to Rome on a ship, she met many cardinals and bishops traveling to Rome for the Pronouncement of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  In Rome, she visited devout Catholics, beautiful churches and significant historic sites, ultimately becoming convinced of the truth of the Catholic Faith. She became acquainted with the Good Shepherd Sisters whose charism was to assist “degraded women.”  The thought occurred to her that she should arrange for these sisters to come to Cincinnati to start a mission there. After spending some time in a convent on retreat, she entered the Church on March 25, 1855.

We will explore her life as a Catholic in Part Two.


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.