Rooted in a faith foundation grown a from a small chapel in the pastoral land of southern Franklin County a century ago, the Catholic community at St. Rita Parish in Blue Ridge Summit is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Several decades before St. Rita Parish was formally established, Catholics in the area of the Pennsylvania-Maryland border attended Mass in St. Joan of Arc Chapel – the first Masses regularly celebrated in Blue Ridge Summit.
Today, its community of 325 families continues to shine as a beacon in the Cumberland Valley, with parish and community-based ministries and carrying on faith traditions.
In recognition of the parish’s centennial, Bishop Ronald Gainer was the principal celebrant for Mass at St. Rita’s on the evening of July 8.
He was joined at the altar by priests of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, who have served the parish since 1993, including Father Peter DiTomasso, current pastor. Priests of the area also concelebrated.
“Parish life is essential to the nourishment of our Catholic faith and life in Christ. Since 1993, St. Rita’s has had the wonderful pastoral leadership of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – and we thank them for the dedicated service to our Diocese,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
In his homily, the bishop told the congregation that the day’s Readings were specifically selected for the parish anniversary.
“Liturgy used to mean some public work done for the benefit of the people – a chosen work for the people…. Liturgy today means participation in the works of God, from which we are made to be sanctified,” he said. “Liturgy is divine worship, but it also has meaning in charitable service.
“In the New Testament, liturgy has three principle functions. Divine worship is clearly one, that we offer our prayers to God through liturgy. It is also where we have a proclamation of the Good News – the Gospel of Christ. And the third is charity – what we do for others in the spirit of love,” Bishop Gainer said. “These three have been the true history of this parish for 100 years. Each of these are part of right worship that Christ spoke to in the Gospel.”
St. Rita Parish, originally named St. Joan of Arc, was established in 1920, along with Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Parish in nearby Fairfield. Within two years, it grew from the original chapel – first to the Blue Ridge Summit Library for Masses, and then into a former lodge hall purchased for $1,500. The hall served as the parish church for 45 years.
The parish’s second pastor, Father Matthew Patrick Sullivan, changed its name to St. Rita’s and purchased the property for the current church.
Ground was broken for the new church in April 1964. The first Mass was celebrated there on Nov. 29 of that year. The parish social hall was built two decades later.
On Sept. 13, 1993, the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary assumed charge of St. Rita’s and Immaculate Conception parishes, and continue to serve the Catholic communities.
Historically, St. Rita Parish and its surrounding area – including nearby Fort Ritchie – have been summer respites for government officials in Washington, D.C. The parish is home to many retired members of the military and former government employees, Father DiTomasso noted.
“As we celebrate this anniversary, I hope the parishioners see that the Church is a family. Like all families, we go through struggles and challenges, but we do so as a family,” Father DiTomasso said. “We stay together with the help of God and rely on our faith to get us through those struggles.”
Ministries at St. Rita Parish include a prayer chain for people who are ill, music ministry, visitation to the homebound, a youth group, St. Rita’s Women’s Society, the Knights of Columbus, the Landings program for those seeking to return to the Church, and That Man Is You, a nationwide program through which men encounter God within the context of their marriages and family life.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness