St. Rita Catholic Church celebrates 100 years in Dade City

Dade City

St. Rita Catholic Church

Dade City was a haven for snowbirds a century ago. Vacationers traveled to the city by train, spending their time basking in the Florida sun and relaxing at the luxurious Edwinola Hotel. Travelers who wanted to attend Mass, however, had anything but a leisurely trip. Catholics faced an arduous 6-mile trek in horse-driven wagons or cars, along a dirt road that was parallel to what is now State Road 52, to get to St. Leo Abbey. Washouts, drifted sand and fallen trees often blocked the way.

Sick of the inconvenience, Mary Lauinger, a frequent visitor from Pittsburgh, petitioned the abbey to build a mission church in Dade City, offering to pay for much of the construction herself. Lauinger soon got her wish. W. Irving Porter sold the land to the abbey for $1, and the prospective parishioners labored to build St. Rita Catholic Church on 14th Street. The church celebrated its first Mass in 1913 with Father Aloysius Deladar presiding.

By 1976, the congregation had grown so large that St. Rita built a new church next to the old one. They moved over four stained glass windows made in France, to pay homage to their beginnings.

The old church building was sold for $1 to the Dade City Garden Club, which moved the structure to 13630 Fifth St.

"The electric power company was involved and took down telephone poles and electric poles so the church could make the slow trek from its old location to its new location," centennial committee member Helen Helseth said.

Now, St. Rita boasts a growing parish of about 1,000 families.

After parishioner John Weiss helped Father Daniel Kayajan to research his family tree, Kayajan knew Weiss was the man to tackle the difficult job of researching the histories of people memorialized on some of the 13 stained glass windows in the church.

Weiss lives in Zephyrhills, but for five years has traveled to Dade City for Mass at St. Rita.

"I like it because it's a small church," Weiss said. "It feels like you're right up on the altar. It feels like you're at home over there."

Samantha Fuchs can be reached at sfuchs@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6235.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: The original St. Rita Catholic Church was built on 14th Street, next to where the current sanctuary stands today. Once the new church was built, the old building was moved to Fifth Street, where it now houses the Dade City Garden Club. A previous version of this article misstated where the original church was built.

>>if you go

St. Rita

St. Rita Catholic Church will celebrate its centennial Mass in English at 11 a.m. and in Spanish at 5 p.m. March 3 at the church, 14404 14th St., Dade City. From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., attendees can view a DVD slide show of photos taken throughout the church's history, and take a tour through the original church, now the Dade City Garden Club, 13630 Fifth St. For information, call (352) 567-2894 or visit stritaparish.org.

St. Rita Catholic Church celebrates 100 years in Dade City 02/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 5:25pm]

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