History of Saint Rita Catholic School
In 1912, a group of involved, dedicated women, the “Ladies Seminarian Society,” gathered the children of Catholic families living in the area then known as St. Elmo-Abington-Del Ray and proceeded to instruct them in the Catholic faith in a cobbler’s shop. This was the beginning of the rich history of Saint Rita Parish in Alexandria.
By 1914 permission had been secured from Bishop O’Connell to build a church and a name was chosen, placing the project under the care of Saint Rita of Cascia, the patroness of “impossible causes.” Ground was broken for the original Saint Rita Church on Hickory Street in Mt. Ida in March of 1914. Dedicated in October of the same year, Masses were said by priests from Saint Mary’s until the “Mission” became a parish in 1924 with its own pastor, Father Leonard Koster. Dominican Sisters and Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart began religious education for children in the parish, traveling from Washington and Baltimore by train and streetcar. Capuchin Fathers also helped out at Saint Rita’s and became an important part of the church community.
By 1940 the parish had grown to 1,000 and a new church was needed. Father Koster secured three acres on Russell Road from the Beall and Conlon families. After Father Koster’s transfer in 1947, the new pastor, Father Gallagher, embarked on a program of construction which would give Saint Rita’s a complete plant including church, school, rectory, convent and annex. St. Rita Church was dedicated on December 18, 1949, with Bishop Ireton laying the cornerstone. Built despite the scarcity of materials caused by the Korean War, Saint Rita Church – constructed of Virginia fieldstone and Indiana limestone – took shape as a beautiful example of Gothic architecture.
Ground was broken in 1951 for a school, annex, and convent for the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who would staff the facility. Dedicated in 1952, the school opened with nine classrooms taught by six sisters and three lay teachers. A three-room addition was added in 1953, providing 12 classrooms and a school hall. Enrollment continued to increase to a peak of 976 students with thirteen sisters in residence in the convent.
A “Home and School Association” was established by Monsignor Gallagher and Mother Francis Patrick in 1966 and has worked hard since its inception to bring teachers and parents together for the good of the children and the good of the parish.
Saint Rita Catholic School is deeply indebted to the Sisters of Saint Joseph for their outstanding educational contributions to our parish school since 1952. Saint Rita Parish pastor, Father Christopher Christensen, and School principal, Mrs. Bethany Hamm, are committed to continuing this rich tradition for the students of Saint Rita School.