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St. Rita Catholic Church Centennial Mass Featuring Cardinal Roger Mahony

Saturday, May 17th, 2008 - click to enlarge event program cover photo (captions added by SMNN)  

Read the history of St. Rita as presented in the Centennial Mass program here.  Succession of Pastors


Cardinal Roger Mahony joined numerous priests who had previously been assigned to St. Rita's Parish in Sierra Madre, including current pastor Fr. Richard Krekelberg and Pastor Emeritus Msgr. Joseph Cokus, in celebrating a mass in recognition of the Centennial of the first Catholic Church in Sierra Madre.  Manuel Valencia was the Deacon of the mass.  The mass took place on Saturday, May 17th, and was followed by a reception at the parish's O'Malley Hall.


Music directors for the service were Steve Gunther and Mary Cronin, directing the St. Rita Choir and Instrumentalists, and Cantors Peter Vecchio and Lisa Bowman.  St. Rita Scout Troop Pack 110 directed traffic outside, after having worked at the Sierra Madre Art Fair over the weekend.


On hand representing the City were Mayor Pro Tem Maryann MacGillivray with her husband Duncan, and City Council Member John Buchanan.  Local clergy in attendance included Rev. Dick Anderson of Sierra Madre Congregational Church, Rev. Michael Bamberger of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Dr. Philip Carlson of Bethany Church, and Father Pat Brennan of Mater Dolorosa.


Since 1908, when Sierra Madre Catholics first approached Chicago priest Father M.W. Barth and asked him if he would celebrate mass for them in an attempt to cut down their long commute to mass, more than 4,000 baptisms, more than 3,500 confirmations, and more than 1,300 marriages have been recorded at St. Rita's, which was originally named in honor of St. Teresa by Bishop Thomas Conaty of the then Diocese of Monterey - Los Angeles. More than 1,400 funeral masses have also taken place in the parish.


Cardinal Mahony opened his sermon (click to hear the audio of his sermon) by inviting anyone who had been there at the beginning of the Parish to stand, and seeing no one, then asked those who had been around for the Parish celebration of its silver, gold and diamond anniversaries to stand and be recognized.  He also thanked members of the clergy, and recognized the religious communities that have guided the parishioners of St. Rita's over the last 100 years.  He drew a laugh from the crowd when he suggested that the Parish's second pastor, Fr. Woodcutter, because he had "a great and deep devotion to St. Rita of Cascia" wanted to make a change and according to Cardinal Mahony, "I suspect he  just changed the name." Cardinal Mahony recounted some of the highlights of the history of the parish, and drew another laugh when he noted that the church which was torn down in 1968 to create the current structure could probably not be torn down today, because the preservationists would never let you tear it down.  He recognized Pastor Krekelberg and Pastor Emeritus Cokus, who both received loud and long rounds of applause.


Audio clip of part of the responsorial psalm, led by cantor Peter Vecchio


Enjoy the pictures below.  Once the service began, I turned off the flash, and the pictures were all taken from the choir loft at the back of the church, so between extensive use of the zoom and non-use of the flash, you may notice reduced quality.

It was a gorgeous day, but hot, with temperatures in the 100 degree range

Pre-ceremony, the two southern sections of the church, with the middle front being reserved for clergy

Duncan MacGillivray, Mayor Pro Tem Maryann MacGillivray, Rev. Michael Bamberger and his wife Debbie (back to camera), Dr. Phil Carlson

Priests begin entering the Church for the service

Cardinal Mahony

Fr. Pat Brennan of Mater Dolorosa is at the center of this picture

Rev. Dick Anderson arrives in suit to the left of the Cardinal

The Choir

Service began with young ladies carrying candles

Cardinal Mahony kisses the altar...

...and dispenses incense at the beginning of the mass

Cardinal Mahony blesses the celebrants with holy water

I didn't do anything to this picture, it came out this way, weird, huh?

Monsignor Cokus receives a welcome back round of applause

Pastor Krekelberg

History of Saint Rita Parish

The first 100 years of St. Rita Parish includes on record: 4,075 Baptisms, 3,590 Confirmations, 1,334 Marriages and 1,469 holy souls who are recorded as having entered eternal life. The handful of families and members that began with Fr. Barth in 1908 has grown to more than 1,200 Catholic households today.


The city of Sierra Madre, California was incorporated in 1907. In 1908, Roman Catholic families approached Chicago priest, Fr. M. W. Barth, who had come to the area for his health, to see if he would celebrate Mass for them. Prior to his arrival, they had to travel long distances to fulfill their Sunday obligation. The rest is, as they say, history. A very small church was built and Bishop Thomas J. Conaty, Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, named the parish in honor of St. Teresa. The Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota had also come to Sierra Madre seeking a healthful climate for their aging sisters. They were eager to help out at the new parish. By 1917 Fr. Barth had passed and Fr. Woodcutter, a native of Canada, was appointed the new pastor. Under Fr. Woodcutter, who was devoted to St. Rita of Cas cia, the parish was renamed in her honor and patronage. In 1922 a multipurpose building combining church, offices, and school classrooms was constructed on the corner of North Baldwin and Alegria Avenue. This marked the beginning of St. Rita School, this year celebrating its 75th Anniversary. The Sisters of Loretto (commuting from Monrovia) aided in establishing the school. A St. Rita Society was established; membership peaked later on at over 3000 members nationwide just before WWII.


In the early 1920s Bishop John J. Cantwell, Bishop of the newly named Di~cese of Los Angeles-San Diego, invited the Passionist Community of Fathers and Brothers to take over St. Rita Parish. Fr. Bennett Driscoll, the first Passionist pastor, saw to the building of a convent to provide for the Sister of St. Joseph of Brighton, Massachusetts, who served from 1924-1936. Mr. William J. Schiltz, another significant player in St. Rita's history "came to Sierra Madre for his health." He later won the bid to build the beloved second St. Rita Church and Shrine in the Spanish-Moorish style that would stand at the corner of Grandview Avenue and North Baldwin to serve thousands of faithful until its demolition in 1968. During this time St. Rita Altar Society and the Holy Name Society came into being. In 1930, St Rita Parish sponsored Boy Scout Troop 372. The Sisters of the Presentation followed the Sisters of St. Joseph and served until the arrival of the Sisters of St. Francis of Christian Charity and Penance in 1942. The Passionist Community provided a combined 14 pastors, assistant pastors, and brothers during their time at St. Rita.


In 1951 Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, named Msgr. Thomas O'Malley as pastor of St. Rita, returning the pastorate of St. Rita to the diocesan clergy. Msgr. O'Malley was pastor for nearly the entire third quarter of St. Rita Parish history. The year after Msgr. O'Malley's arrival, St. Rita received its first diocesan associate pastor, Fr. Joseph Ryan, who served for 15 years; Mother Athanasia of the Sisters of St. Francis of Charity and Penance became the principal. Parish organizations, societies, and more than 800 St. Rita families and members supported the expansion of the school to form and educate an average of 660 students per year. The school became an East and West Campus facility and the sisters took up residence in a new convent large enough to accommodate 14 sisters. In 1967 plans for a new Church were approved to provide for the growing parish and to assure safety for an earthquake prone California foothill geography. The John Gougeon Company designed the new St. Rita Church and Shrine which was dedicated by Cardinal McIntyre on January 4, 1970.


In 1974 Cardinal Timothy Manning appointed Msgr. Robert Gara the tenth pastor of St. Rita Parish. His 14 years of service and ministry saw the parish through the tumultuous years of the early '70s and the transition of St. Rita School to an all-lay administration and staff. Changes for "The Church in the Modern World" brought about by The Second Vatican Council began to be implemented as lay members of the Church were encouraged to take their rightful place as "the baptized called by name" to be part of a new and welcoming evangelization. Ernie and Omi Nosari became the first "deacon couple." Deacon Ernie became St. Rita's first permanen't deacon and a most welcome and needed additional ordained minister in the parish. In 1988, Msgr. Joseph Cokus was appointed pastor by Cardinal Roger Mahony and would shepherd the parish for 16 years. Increased opportunities for education and formation were developed for all ages, parish finances were stabilized following the serious recession of the 1980s, and aging parish facilities were repaired and brought up to code. Following Msgr. Cokus' retirement in 2004, Cardinal Mahony appointed Fr. Richard Krekelberg the 12th and current pastor of St. Rita Parish. In 2005 a year-long parish survey was conducted by the parish pastoral and finance councils, and in 2006 a new 10-year Pastoral Plan, which calls for the renewal and expansion of ministries and charitable outreach, was accepted and blessed by Regional Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala. To mark the Centennial, Cardinal Roger Mahony celebrates Mass on May 17th, 2008, with the St. Rita Parish Family to give thanks for the first 100 years and to ask God's blessing upon the new century of parish life and ministry already in progress.

Succession of Pastors

Fr. M. W. Barth

1908 - 1919

Fr. Francis Woodcutter 1919 - 1923
Fr. Peter Hanley, C.P. 1923 - 1924
Fr. Bennett Driscoll, C.P. 1924 - 1926
Fr. Hyacinth Clarey, C.P. 1926 - 1938
Fr. Augustine Scannell, C.P. 1938 - 1942
Fr. Leo Schiebel, C.P. 1942 - 1951
Msgr. Thomas O'Malley 1951 - 1973
Fr. Lawrence Coen 1973 - 1974
Msgr. Robert Gara 1974 - 1988
Msgr. Joseph Cokus 1988 - 2004
Fr. Richard Krekelberg 2004 -

 Religious Communities that have guided St. Rita's during the first 100 years.

Sisters of St. Francis of Rochester, Minnesota

Sisters of Loretto

Sisters of St. Joseph of Brighton, Massachusetts

Sisters of The Presentation

Sisters of St. Francis of Christian Charity and Penance

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

Passionist Community

Capuchin Franciscans

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