Parish History

Parish History

Saint Rita Church 1922
Saint Rita Church 1922

The first 100 years of St. Rita Parish includes on record: 4,075 Baptisms, 3,590 Confirmations, 1,334 Marriages and 1,469 holy souls who are recorded as having entered eternal life. The handful of families and members that began with Fr. Barth in 1908 has grown to more than 1,200 Catholic households today.

THE FIRST QUARTER CENTURY (1908-1925)

The city of Sierra Madre, California was incorporated in 1907. In 1908, Roman Catholic families approached Chicago priest, Fr. M. W. Barth, who had come to the area for his health, to see if he would celebrate Mass for them. Prior to his arrival, they had to travel long distances to fulfill their Sunday obligation. The rest is, as they say, history. A very small church was built and Bishop Thomas J. Conaty, Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, named the parish in honor of St. Teresa. The Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota had also come to Sierra Madre seeking a healthful climate for their aging sisters. They were eager to help out at the new parish. By 1917 Fr. Barth had passed and Fr. Woodcutter, a native of Canada, was appointed the new pastor. Under Fr. Woodcutter, who was devoted to St. Rita of Cas cia, the parish was renamed in her honor and patronage. In 1922 a multipurpose building combining church, offices, and school classrooms was constructed on the corner of North Baldwin and Alegria Avenue. This marked the beginning of St. Rita School, this year celebrating its 75th Anniversary. The Sisters of Loretto (commuting from Monrovia) aided in establishing the school. A St. Rita Society was established; membership peaked later on at over 3000 members nationwide just before WWII.

THE SECOND QUARTER CENTURY (1925-1950)

In the early 1920s Bishop John J. Cantwell, Bishop of the newly named Di~cese of Los Angeles-San Diego, invited the Passionist Community of Fathers and Brothers to take over St. Rita Parish. Fr. Bennett Driscoll, the first Passionist pastor, saw to the building of a convent to provide for the Sister of St. Joseph of Brighton, Massachusetts, who served from 1924-1936. Mr. William J. Schiltz, another significant player in St. Rita’s history “came to Sierra Madre for his health.” He later won the bid to build the beloved second St. Rita Church and Shrine in the Spanish-Moorish style that would stand at the corner of Grandview Avenue and North Baldwin to serve thousands of faithful until its demolition in 1968. During this time St. Rita Altar Society and the Holy Name Society came into being. In 1930, St Rita Parish sponsored Boy Scout Troop 372. The Sisters of the Presentation followed the Sisters of St. Joseph and served until the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis of Christian Charity and Penance in 1942. The Passionist Community provided a combined 14 pastors, assistant pastors, and brothers during their time at St. Rita.

THE THIRD QUARTER CENTURY (1950-1975)

In 1951 Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, named Msgr. Thomas O’Malley as pastor of St. Rita, returning the pastorate of St. Rita to the diocesan clergy. Msgr. O’Malley was pastor for nearly the entire third quarter of St. Rita Parish history. The year after Msgr. O’Malley’s arrival, St. Rita received its first diocesan associate pastor, Fr. Joseph Ryan, who served for 15 years; Mother Athanasia of the Sisters of St. Francis of Charity and Penance became the principal. Parish organizations, societies, and more than 800 St. Rita families and members supported the expansion of the school to form and educate an average of 660 students per year. The school became an East and West Campus facility and the sisters took up residence in a new convent large enough to accommodate 14 sisters. In 1967 plans for a new Church were approved to provide for the growing parish and to assure safety for an earthquake prone California foothill geography. The John Gougeon Company designed the new St. Rita Church and Shrine which was dedicated by Cardinal McIntyre on January 4, 1970.

THE FOURTH QUARTER CENTURY (1975-2008)

In 1974 Cardinal Timothy Manning appointed Msgr. Robert Gara the tenth pastor of St. Rita Parish. His 14 years of service and ministry saw the parish through the tumultuous years of the early ’70s and the transition of St. Rita School to an all-lay administration and staff. Changes for “The Church in the Modern World” brought about by The Second Vatican Council began to be implemented as lay members of the Church were encouraged to take their rightful place as “the baptized called by name” to be part of a new and welcoming evangelization. Ernie and Omi Nosari became the first “deacon couple.” Deacon Ernie became St. Rita’s first permanen’t deacon and a most welcome and needed additional ordained minister in the parish. In 1988, Msgr. Joseph Cokus was appointed pastor by Cardinal Roger Mahony and would shepherd the parish for 16 years. Increased opportunities for education and formation were developed for all ages, parish finances were stabilized following the serious recession of the 1980s, and aging parish facilities were repaired and brought up to code. Following Msgr. Cokus’ retirement in 2004, Cardinal Mahony appointed Fr. Richard Krekelberg the 12th and current pastor of St. Rita Parish. In 2005 a year-long parish survey was conducted by the parish pastoral and finance councils, and in 2006 a new 10-year Pastoral Plan, which calls for the renewal and expansion of ministries and charitable outreach, was accepted and blessed by Regional Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala. To mark the Centennial, Cardinal Roger Mahony celebrates Mass on May 17th, 2008, with the St. Rita Parish Family to give thanks for the first 100 years and to ask God’s blessing upon the new century of parish life and ministry already in progress.