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St. Rita Catholic Church celebrates 50th anniversary


After one of last month’s Sunday services, St. Rita Catholic Church parishioners, from left to right, Darlene Rivera, daughter Kalina Rivera and Alyssa Jewell pose with pastoral moderator Father Patrick Brennan.
Ask parishioners of St. Rita Catholic Church what they think of their church, and you’ll get warm, enthusiastic answers.

For some, it’s a great place to meet others of their faith.

For others, it’s more like a home, a place of refuge in a fast-paced world.

Most parishioners and neighbors just call it “St. Rita” or “St. Rita’s.”

This year parishioners of St. Rita, located at 10029 N.E. Prescott St., will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the completion and dedication of the current building.

The official 50th anniversary celebration is set for Tuesday, May 22. It begins with a Mass officiated by John Vlazny, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, at 6:30 p.m. Following the one-hour Mass, the new outdoor statue created by St. Rita parishioner William “Beau” Beaulieu will be dedicated, and a reception will be held in the church hall. The reception will feature hors d’oeuvres, a short program and time for parishioners to reminisce about their experiences over the years at St. Rita. The entire function, from the Mass to the reception, is free and open to the public.

The program will feature photographs along with a narrative of the parishioners and events over the past 50 years. Parishioners who have been exemplary in their generosity of time and talent to the parish will also be recognized; in some cases the recognition will be given posthumously.

For the history of the church, the Memo drew from the “Golden Jubilee” book put out by St. Rita to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the church parish, covering the years 1923 through 1973.

The first church building for St. Rita was dedicated on Sept. 9, 1923.

As he prepared for the dedication ceremonies that day, the pastor of the church, Father J. M. O’Farrell, remembered “the eager hands that helped build the church.

“With a chuckle, (O’Farrell) recalled young Arnold Zenner and Joe Casale hitching up a team of horses to pull out those big fir stumps to clear the land.” At that time, the church was located near the intersection of Northeast 102nd Avenue and Prescott Street. That first church was built for less than $5,000.

After a Sunday service held last month at St. Rita Catholic Church in Parkrose, pastoral moderator Father Patrick Brennan, left, speaks with his parishioners. On May 22, St. Rita is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the completion and dedication of the new building.
O’Farrell served both St. Rose Catholic Church and St. Rita until May 31, 1924, when Father W. J. Maher became the first resident pastor and St. Rita, then a mission, became an independent parish.

Groundbreaking for the new church at Northeast 100th Avenue and Prescott Street was May 20, 1956. The architects were McCoy and Bradbury; the general contractor was A. N. Minden Company. The cost of the new church and rectory was approximately $250,000, and just over a year later, on May 22, 1957, the new church was dedicated.

John and Ruth Stockem and their children came to Portland from Wisconsin in 1955 and joined St. Rita a year later. They have been parishioners ever since, and for some good reasons.

The Stockems live near Northeast 121st Avenue and Thompson Street.

“It’s like being at home,” John said. “The warm feeling we receive from being members of the church actually gives us more reason to become involved in the neighborhood.”

From a personal perspective, St. Rita has been of great comfort and help to John. “It helped me during good times and bad times,” he admitted. “I’ve had a couple of heart surgeries and a couple of heart attacks, and (members of the church) have been with me. The church is more than the building,” John professed. “It’s the people.”

Dick Harr has been part of St. Rita since his birth. As a child, he grew up near the church, at Northeast 96th Avenue and Prescott Street. He was baptized at the church. He was an alter boy at the church. He even attended and graduated from the eighth grade from the former St. Rita Catholic Church parochial school. Although the parochial school is no more, the building is currently used as the Maywood Park campus of Mt. Hood Community College.

Harr now lives with his wife, Diane, near Northeast 131st Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.

“We like the people at St. Rita,” Harr said, speaking for himself and Diane. “They have a very warm community atmosphere. So many people come to St. Rita looking for a church to worship at, and they comment about how well received they are, how friendly the parishioners are and how those parishioners are such a nice group of people to worship with.”

Harr commented that he’s seen the demographics of the church change over the years, with more ethnic representation, especially from the Hispanic and Asian communities. Harr said those ethnic groups “feel comfortable joining us there for worship.”

Harr, who is a member of the 50th anniversary celebration committee, said the church is undergoing a remodel of the interior, to include general repainting and new lighting around the altar.

Diane Harr worked on the one of the committees for the annual St. Rita Church Spaghetti Dinner fundraising function, held April 1. The dinner, which began in 1937, helps support the parish, with proceeds going into church operating funds.

St. Rita parishioner Marie Marckx grew up in Parkrose, with her parents owning a house in what is now Maywood Park, on the corner of Northeast 96th Avenue and Campaign Street.

Her connection with St. Rita goes back to the year she was born. That year she was baptized at St. Rita.

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