History of St. Rita Parish
Founded in 1921, St. Rita Parish has spent nearly 100 years extending God's Kingdom to the Marlyville and Gert Town neighborhoods of New Orleans.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, the area around Carrollton and Claiborne Avenues was still primarily the domain of truck gardens and dairy farms, with residents attending Mater Dolorosa Parish. As the city grew, side streets were laid out, fanning from Carrollton and Claiborne, with Fontainebleau Drive, as the continuation of South Broad, becoming a lovely residential street and Broadway an increasingly important thoroughfare.
Responding to the growing population, Archbishop John Shaw formally established St. Rita Parish on March 24, 1921, naming it in honor of the 14th century Italian saint who was popular among New Orleans Catholics following her canonization in 1900.
Fr. Patrick Walsh was named the founding pastor, and the native of Farnane, Ireland set to work growing the faith in the area during the first 17 years of the parish's existence.
The first Mass was celebrated in a private home, that of Mr. and Mrs. John Henry, 293 Audubon Blvd., on Passion Sunday, March 13, 1921. Several months later, the parishioners rented a dirt floor basement in a house owned by the Palmisano family at the corner of Broadway and Mobile streets. They spread a tarpaulin on the floor, put benches along the walls, and Fr. Walsh celebrated Mass there.
An outstanding benefactor was Frank Palmisano who donated the land on the square bounded by Pine, Broad Place, Fontainebleau, and Lowerline, where the first church and rectory were built. The new church, a two-story frame structure, was dedicated on the feast of St. Rita, May 22, 1922.
One thing lacking was a school, and Fr. Walsh was determined to provide one for his already growing flock of parishioners. He was aided again by Frank Palmisano, who donated $10,000 for the project. In November of 1923, a two-story white frame school building on Lowerline in back of the church was completed and dedicated by Archbishop Shaw.
Three Marianite of the Holy Cross sisters staffed the first school, with an opening enrollment of 110 children, sixty-seven boys and forty-three girls. The nuns's living quarters were located on the second floor of the school, but in 1929 they moved to a residence on the corner of Pine and Broad Place in order to provide more classroom space.
It was Fr. Walshe's dream to one day see the construction of a more imposing and artistically impressive St. Rita church building to serve his parishioners. However, on November 22, 1938, he died suddenly of a heart attack in the rectory. His dream was realized under the administration of St. Rita's second pastor, Monsignor William Castel. The present church, an early Romanesque design, has become one of the outstanding landmarks in the Carrollton area. Standing imposingly as it does on an irregular square bounded by Broad Place, Lowerline, Pine streets, it commands an attractive view from several traffic directions.
The new church, dedicated in 1953, was followed in 1962 by the present brick school building, which replaced the original frame structure destroyed by fire on December 1, 1960.