By Cathy Harasta
St. Rita Catholic School kindergarten teacher Kerry Franklin never will forget being a charter third-grader at the school, which will kick off a year-long 50th anniversary celebration on Oct. 12.
Each school day takes Franklin back to the school’s beginning, because she teaches in the same room in which she spent her third-grade year.
“When I walk by my graduation picture in the hallway, it inspires me to be the best that I can be,” Franklin said. “The history here is something that I can share with my classes.”
The school will open its tribute with a 50th Anniversary Celebration Mass at St. Rita Catholic Church at 8 a.m. on Oct. 12, which also is the annual Mary Alice Maher Day. The day honors the late “Mama Spartan,” a long-time secretary at the school, which was founded by the Jesuits and originally staffed by the Bernardine Sisters.
Through the year, special Masses, concerts—including a performance by country musician Jack Ingram on Nov. 16—and carnivals will help the school and parish community celebrate the milestone.
Elena Hines, in her 23rd year as principal at St. Rita, said that the school community is focusing much of its celebration on faith.
“Our hope is to bring people together,” she said. “We’re definitely looking for our alumni and their parents to have the opportunity to see their former teachers and to see familiar faces.”
Hines said that the K-through-eighth-grade school plans to expand, adding specialized instruction rooms, pre-kindergarten classes and more. St. Rita’s enrollment was 490 when Hines arrived and now is 672, she said.
“I can’t imagine life without St. Rita,” said Kay Neuhoff, whose seven children graduated from the school. “I remember when the school opened and everyone was so excited about the uniforms and how everything was so new.”
Neuhoff, a longtime St. Rita parishioner, has a grandson who attends St. Rita Catholic School and two daughters who work at the school.
“So much has happened in 50 years,” she said. “It’s a comfort to know the discipline and Catholicity of St. Rita.”
St. Rita physical education teacher Coleen Gorman, whose three sons graduated from the school, said that she expects that reminiscing will be among the celebration’s highlights.
“It’s important to draw attention to this milestone,” she said. “Our curriculum is Christ-centered, which you can really see in Elena Hines’ leadership. I consider St. Rita my family.”
Though plenty has changed, Gorman laughed when she named some old, familiar pastimes as among the current students’ favorite activities: Capture the Flag and dodgeball.
Hines said that technology has been the greatest instrument of change in her tenure as principal.
“You don’t drop the things you’re doing—you add to them,” she said. “What’s important to us is that we’re celebrating 50 years of academic excellence and hoping that also will give impetus to our growth and capital campaign. The thing that always impressed me is the community feeling about St. Rita.”
St. Rita religion teacher Patti Sylvester, who has been at the school for 34 years, said that she appreciated the supportive families and volunteers.
“I’m so lucky,” said Sylvester, who taught her children and grandchildren at St. Rita. “I believe that God has called me here. I’m so blessed to be here to do the will of God. The Holy Spirit guides me.”