St. Rita Parish has a strong and proud history of deep faith and a persevering spirit that can be traced back to its founding. Built in the West Side area of Connellsville, St. Rita Parish was founded by Father Enrico DeVivo in 1914 to serve the needs of the many newly arrived Italian immigrants.
A traveling missionary priest, Father DeVivo was impressed with the spirit and kindness of the people he found in the Connellsville area. He stayed in the region and while forming a new Italian ethnic parish began celebrating Mass on a regular basis in the basement of the Immaculate Conception Church.
There had been an earlier attempt in 1902 to establish an Italian parish under the leadership of Father Feniello. A church was built and dedicated with the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Tragically, Father Feniello was killed in a historic train crash near Dawson in 1903. Without his leadership in the difficult economic times that followed, the church was eventually forced to close and the property sold.
A rectory was provided for Father DeVivo in 1915. Construction also began on the church in the summer of 1915 with the church being completed just enough that its first Mass could be held at 12:30 a.m. Christmas morning in 1915.
By 1922, the church was adorned with beautiful windows and frescos in the finest Italian tradition. These would be refurbished in the 1980’s under the direction of Father Michael Bucci.
The very small original rectory occupied by Father DeVivo was torn down and a new rectory was completed and later enlarged in 1922. In the later 1920s the rectory became St. Rita’s convent housing the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The St. Rita Cathoilc School building was originally constructed as the parish’s first social hall known as Maddas Hall in honor of generous benefactors Frank and Laura Maddas of Jeannette.
Maddas Hall became St. Rita Elementary School in 1925. The building, now used as the parish office for the partner parishes of Connellsville, was built in 1926 as the parish rectory. During the Great Depression, the unemployed of the parish community constructed the Italian gardens and grotto as a sign of esteem for Father DeVivo. The gardens were dedicated in 1933.
Father DeVivo continued to serve as pastor of St. Rita Parish until 1953 when the second pastor of the parish, Father Andrew DiSanto, was assigned. Under his guidance, the church sanctuary was remodeled, including a new marble altar, communion rail, pews and lighting. The interior of the church was also repainted.
In 1964 the church’s new social hall was constructed after the early building was destroyed by fire. This was also overseen by Father DiSanto who retired in 1969. Father Nicholas Mitolo became the third pastor of the parish following Father DiSanto. He remained in the parish until 1978. Especially noteworthy during his stay was the installation of a new pipe organ in 1975. The organ is still in use today, and continues to enhance all the liturgical celebrations that take place in the parish.
In 1978, Father Michael Bucci was installed as pastor. Among his accomplishments in the 1980s were the renovation of the stained glass windows, the repair of the steeple, the construction of the cemetery chapel, the repainting and rewiring of the church, the renovation of the social hall, and the construction of a handicapped accessible ramp to the church.