History of the Shrine
From its inception, Saint Rita’s has served as a spiritual, educational, social and cultural center within the South Philadelphia community. The generous donation of one individual, Mr. Lucas Burke, the eagerness of the then Archbishop, Patrick Ryan, and the leadership of the Augustinian Friars, came together in 1907 to provide a setting in which the spiritual, social and educational needs of the poor immigrant families could be addressed. These immigrants came not only to receive, however; they had much to offer as well. Their creativity, talent,
patience and industry built a monumental church whose beauty and spirit continue to encourage, inspire and enthrall believers and non-believers alike to our day.
Through its parish school, devotions and social activities, Saint Rita’s became recognized quickly throughout Philadelphia. Over the years the parish served many communities. First came the immigrant families seeking a new life in a new country, reliant on their centuries-old faith. As they became part of the American fabric, the church shifted its concern to the ever-changing neighborhood and the city. By the early 1990s it seemed as if this remarkable community center might close. However, a faith-based initiative to revitalize Saint Rita’s began and soon gained widespread support. The mission to rejuvenate this place of reconciliation and peacemaking began in 1993 as the result of a newsletter mailing to just 600 people. By the year 2000, the Bishops of the United States designated it the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, incorporated as a non-profit, civil corporation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since then, several additional phases of the renovation project have been completed, and popular support has increased. Saint Rita’s is once again alive. New enthusiasts have joined longstanding parishioners to make Saint Rita’s their spiritual home.
The years of rebuilding gave rise to the refurbishing of the upper church, a complete renovation and remodeling of the lower shrine and an installation of an elevator to reach both areas above and below ground level. Today our Peacemaker magazine reaches over 20,000 households nationwide, and the constant care to maintain and enhance the beauty of the church and shrine is clearly evident to visiting pilgrims and local devotees who frequent St. Rita’s.
Tens of thousands over the years have come to call Saint Rita’s their spiritual home, a unique place of spirituality and ministry. The soul of the church and its many accomplishments are embodied in the life of its patroness, Saint Rita, the 15th Century wife, mother, widow and nun who is renowned as Peacemaker, Advocate of Reconciliation and Helper in the most difficult of situations. Untold numbers of men and women from outside the community have also been drawn by the message and example of this wonder-worker saint over the course of the years to visit her church, invoke her aid, and sing her praises. Thus, the patrons of Saint Rita are distributed far and wide.
One very special event has continued uninterrupted since 1907, which brings people back to Saint Rita’s: the Feast of the Saint herself on May 22, preceded by the Solemn Novena from May 13 to 21. In addition, since its revitalization as a National Shrine, there has been a steady rebuilding of interest and enthusiasm for Saint Rita’s as a place of prayer, devotion and pilgrimage. Busloads of visitors come to the shrine, the newsletter’s circulation is growing, and services to the community are expanding. There is a renewed sense of diversity and vitality, and a willingness to meet new needs as they arise. In discerning these needs and building upon what has already been realized, we look for the same spirit of generosity, enthusiasm and creativity that characterized our early history to continue, in order that we might meet the challenges of the future most effectively.