(Photo permission Fairfax Historical Society)
Undated photo is believed to show a first Communion class at St. Rita Parish in the 1920s or 1930s. The group is standing on what is now Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on the estate of one of Marin’s many Italian settlers.
St. Rita Church celebrates 100th anniversary
September 13th, 2016
By Christina Gray
St. Rita families leaving the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass on Sept. 11 didn’t have to travel far to go back in time a hundred years.
Just a few feet from the steps of the church inside a wood-shingled structure of Arcadian charm, the parish and local community came together that day in the parish’s original church dedicated in 1916 to reminisce about old times in a space where generations of Marin County Catholics have been baptized, confirmed, married and buried.
According to the Fairfax Historical Society, St. Rita Church was originally built as a mission church of St. Anselm Church located only three miles away. Its first pastor, Father John T. Egan, sought to help nurture the faith of Fairfax’s early settlers, predominantly Italian immigrants who found work on the railroads that lured wealthy San Franciscans to summer in Marin’s warmer climate.
Archbishop Edward J. Hanna named the church St. Rita to honor St. Rita of Cascia, whose popularity and devotion had been expanding since her canonization in 1900. It is the only church in the Archdiocese of San Francisco to be so named.
Father William J. Cantwell replaced Father Egan as pastor of St. Anselm and St. Rita mission church and served for 14 years until St. Rita’s became a parish in 1930.
The Sisters of the Holy Family arrived in Fairfax in 1917 to begin their work of religious education to the children of the community. They left their motherhouse on Fillmore Street in San Francisco taking public transportation to the Ferry Building where they traveled by boat then train to arrive in Fairfax on schedule for the 7:30 a.m. Mass.
By the early 1950s, the parish grew to 750 families as Marin suburbs swelled, and in 1957 St. Rita School opened for grades K-8. Since the Sisters of the Holy Family, were dedicated to Christian instruction for only non-parochial students, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit came in and served St. Rita students until 1976 when lay faculty staffed the school. St. Rita School closed in 2015.
St. Rita pastor Father Kenneth Weare is St. Rita’s 13th pastor. His parish community reflects his background as a moral theologian and adjunct professor of social ethics at the University of San Francisco.
St. Rita spearheaded the Marin County Guatemala Mission Program, a program made up of a group of parishes and church communities around Marin County who have joined together to assist the poor Mayan children of Guatemala.
Since 2001, the program has constructed two churches, rebuilt a convent and rectory, constructed a carpentry trade school and a preschool, primary and secondary school.
During these years the parish has shipped over 13 containers to the mission site containing school supplies, children’s vitamins, shoes, clothing, various household items and carpenter school supplies.
From September 15, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.