An Illustrated History of Saint Rita Parish
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 Saint 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 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 a complete plant including church, school, rectory, convent and annex. Even with the difficulty of securing materials during the Korean War, Saint Rita Church was dedicated on December 18, 1949, with Bishop Ireton laying the cornerstone. Described as a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, the church was constructed of Virginia fieldstone and Indiana limestone.