It all started in 1907,
just seven years after the canonization of Saint Rita of Cascia.
A History of Saint Rita's in Philadelphia
From its inception, Saint Rita’s has served as a spiritual, educational, social and cultural center in South Philadelphia.
In 1907, the leadership of the Augustinian Friars, the eagerness of Archbishop Patrick Ryan, and the generous donation of one individual, Mr. Lucas Burke, came together to address the spiritual, social and educational needs of the poor immigrant families of the neighborhood. These immigrants came not only to receive; 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. Through its parish school, devotions and social activities, Saint Rita’s quickly became recognized 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 a faith that transcends time. As they became part of the American fabric, the church shifted its concern to the ever-changing neighborhood and the city.
From Local Parish to National Shrine
By the early 1990s, the building was in danger of closing. but 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 renovation have been completed, and popular support has increased. Saint Rita’s is once again vibrant with community life, which now extends beyond the city boundaries to the entire nation. New enthusiasts have joined longstanding parishioners to make Saint Rita’s their spiritual home.
Restoration and Expansion of Ministry
The years of rebuilding gave rise to the refurbishing of the upper church, and a complete renovation and remodeling of the lower shrine.
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 evident to visiting pilgrims and local devotees who frequent St. Rita’s.
Now, we turn our eyes toward new outreach opportunities! For years, the Cascia Center Ministries have operated out of the Shrine and our office building. For over a decade, Shrine administration has been raising funds from generous donors to build a dedicated Cascia Center building in the lot next to the Shrine, in order to expand our services to the local community. Recently, we've partnered with Catholic Health Care Services to bring this plan to fruition, changing from a 1-floor building plan to a 5-floor building plan. The building will encompass both the Cascia Center on the first floor, and St. Rita Place on the top four floors. St. Rita Place will provide low-income senior housing for local Philadelphians who want to live their golden years here in the community they know and love. With the support of the friars of the Augustinian Province of St. Thomas of Villanova, the Cascia Center will provide a wide array of outreach opportunities, from continued counseling and mediation services, to pilgrim receptions, Peacemaking forums, and other programming that fosters healing, reconciliation and peace in our communities.
A Saint of the Impossible; A Patroness for All People
over the years, Tens of thousands 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 spread far and wide!
One very special event has continued uninterrupted since 1907, which brings people back to Saint Rita’s: Her Feast Day 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.