A Short History of St. Rita Parish
St. Rita Parish was founded in 1912 in Dade City (Pasco County), in the center of a large citrus growing area. Up until 1981, the Catholic community was shepherded by priests from St. Leo Benedictine Abbey, only five miles away. The original and very attractive Church was a gift from Mrs. Lauiger’s family, and was erected in 1913 at 1000 South 5th St. The first Mass was celebrated on May 4, 1913,. Additions to the church were made in 1915 and 1917 to accommodate the growing Catholic population.
From 1915 to 1929, Fr. Francis Sadlier, O.S.B., was priest-in-charge of St. Rita’s until he became abbot of St. Leo in 1929. Under Fr. Francis’ direction, the parochial hall was built and other imporvements were made. Shortly thereafter, Fr. John Schlicht (1929-1954) was made priest-in-charge. Under his wise guidance the church continued to progress favorably.
As time went on, additions were made to the parish buildings and property. In 1954, when Fr.John left, Fr. Ernest Schultz, O.S.B. (1954-1961) came to St. Rita, and stayed until June of 1961. Fr. Andrew Metzger, O.S.B. (1961-1963) followed, staying until 1963. In 1963 Fr. Benedict Weigand O.S.B. (1963-1980) became priest-in-charge. At this time the rectory, block house and three vacant lots were obtained from the Hormuth estate.
After Fr. Benedict had been here serveral years, he noticed just how rapidly the Dade City Catholic community was growing. So, in 1974, it was decided to have the present church built.
On Sept 8, 1974, Most Reverend Charles McLaughin broke the ground for the building of the present church. Cesar P. Alfonso, A.I.A. of Tampa was the architect and Gude Brothers Construction Co. was the contractor.
Features of the new church included a statue of the Risen Christ – 60″ high – hanging in the sanctuary, artistically hand-carved in lindenwood by Cav. Giac. Vincenzo Mussner of Ortisei, Italy. Also commissioned by the sculptor was a set of 14 Stations of the Cross in lindenwood, and the altar – with four figures of the apostles carved in the bases in chestnut. The stained glass windows of the old church were preserved and placed in the new church. The original mission church was given to the Women’s Garden Club, and is still standing. The parochial hall was sold, and is still standing on North 21st St.
It was during the tenure of Fr. Benedict as priest-in-charge that an active and continually growing migrant ministry was begun with the aid of Fr. Damien DuQuesnay, O.S.B. and benedictine sitster from Holy Name Priory. Fr. Loran Miller also helped in this ministry.
On Nov. 1, 1980, Fr. Benedict Weigand, O.S.B. who had served with great distinction here for 17 years as priest-in-charge at St. Rita retired, and the Very Reverend Robert Rittmeyer, O.S.B. was made priest-in-charge with Fr. Joseph Rimshaw as his assistant. Shortly thereafter, the Diocese of St. Petersburg was asked to assume pastoral care of St. Rita Parish.
Since coming under the pastoral care of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1988, St. Rita Catholic Church has continued to grow, and in November of 1997 dedicated the new Administration/Religious Education building. Activities of the parish include an active parish council, active youth group, and the migrant ministry – an important ministry taking into account the agricultural, rural nature of eastern Pasco County. St. Rita Parish is also one of four churches in the area to support the St. Anthony Interparochial Catholic School in San Antonio.