Established: 1908Location: 50 East Alegria Avenue, Sierra MadreSan Gabriel Region: Deanery 10Every parish claims something unique, but the one in Sierra Madre may be the only parish founded on property bought and paid for by the first pastor. Father Mathias Barth, born in Germany and raised in Chicago, had served for 30 years in pastoral work in Illinois before petitioning to move to California to overcome his “chronic bronchitis.” Advised by doctors to move to Sierra Madre, his health did improve. He purchased a lot and built a small chapel, all from his own limited means. On Sept. 6, 1908, Father Barth celebrated the first High Mass in the chapel and soon after the parish was named for St. Teresa in gratitude for his improved health. Bishop Thomas Conaty gave Father Barth permission and helped establish this new parish. At the time, the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles included several California Missions, 40 parishes and five new parishes opened in 1908. The population of Los Angeles was about 300,000 and the average wage nationally was 22 cents an hour. “The car that changed the world” rolled off the assembly line that year and eager buyers could purchase the model T Ford for $825. The original chapel for St. Teresa on Olive Street near Baldwin Avenue proved to be inadequate, so in 1911 Father Barth paid $135 to have the building moved to Highland and Baldwin Avenues. But after 12 years heading the parish — in which time the number of parishioners grew from 10 to 88 and the location of the chapel changed three times — Father Barth’s health declined and he died in April 1919 at age 68. Another German priest, Father Francis Woodcutter, came to the diocese for reasons of health. In March 1919, recently-installed Bishop John Cantwell gave Father Woodcutter permission to rededicate and rename the parish for Saint Rita of Cascia, patroness of “impossible cases,” in gratitude for the new pastor’s improved health. During his four years at the parish, he established the Shrine of Saint Rita and oversaw the construction of new buildings to serve as church, hall, rectory and school. In 1925 parishioner William Schiltz designed and built the church that remained in use for 42 years.Father Woodcutter died in 1948 at age 79 after 52 years in the priesthood, but the saint he chose has continued to inspire the parish. St. Rita, born in Italy in the 15th century, was a devoted wife, protective mother, family peacemaker, faith-filled widow and Augustinian nun. Canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1900, her feast day is May 22. Her body is preserved at the basilica in Cascia, a pilgrimage site; her national shrine in the U.S. is in Philadelphia.In 1923 Bishop Cantwell entrusted St. Rita’s parish to the care of the Congregation of the Passionists, who later established the nearby Mater Dolorosa Monastery and Retreat Center, while improving St. Rita’s convent, church, rectory, school and parish hall. Father Peter Hanley was the first Passionist pastor and served for a year, followed by Fathers Bennett Driscoll, Hyacinth Clarey, Alan Prendergast and Leo Scheibel. In 1951 the Passionist Fathers asked to be relieved of St. Rita’s. The new pastor, appointed by Archbishop James Francis McIntyre, was Father Thomas O’Malley, an Irish-born U.S. Army chaplain in World War II, who shepherded the parish for 22 years. In that time the number of parishioners more than tripled, and a new church with a bell-shaped floor plan was dedicated in 1970; like the previous church, its architect was a parishioner, John Andre Gougeon. Msgr. O’Malley retired in 1991 and died in 1994 at age 86.For 14 years Msgr. Robert Gara, another Irish-born priest, headed the parish, re-established the shrine to St. Rita and firmly held to Vatican II liturgy. He retired as pastor emeritus in 1988 and died at age 80 in 2000. His successor was a close friend, Msgr. Joseph Cokus, a native of Pittsburgh who had assisted there many times while rector of the high school seminary in Mission Hills. During his 16-year tenure he improved St. Rita’s finances and school management. He retired as pastor emeritus in 2004. The current pastor is Msgr. Richard Krekelberg, a native of Minnesota ordained by Cardinal Timothy Manning in 1973 (three years after his brother, Father William, archivist for the Orange Diocese). He taught at the high school seminary and at St. John’s Seminary, and was pastor for six years at St. Anthony, Long Beach, before his appointment at St. Rita’s, which in 2008 proudly celebrated its 100th anniversary. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0419/ritaside/{/gallery}