St. Rita Parish in Ranger celebrates 100 years

North Texas Catholic
(Jun 10, 2019) Local

St. Rita Church in Ranger continues to stand tall 100 years after its founding in the western reaches of the Diocese of Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

RANGER — One hundred years old, and she’s more beautiful than ever.

St. Rita Church in Ranger overwhelmed Deacon Ed Ferguson and his wife, Sue, with her beauty when they first stepped into the red brick structure three years ago. The rich colors of the stained-glass windows, the intricately carved wooden high altar, and the beautiful statues were breathtaking. But then they met the people.

“We came out of nowhere, and these wonderful people accepted and welcomed us. They treated us like family, like we had lived here all of our lives,” said the deacon, who moved from the Archdiocese of San Antonio with his wife to care for an aging relative.

An undated view of St. Rita Parish. By October 1919, the parish community called the red brick church home. (NTC archives) Photo Gallery

About 250 people experienced the parish’s beauty and its warmth on June 8, when Bishop Michael Olson celebrated Mass at the Ranger parish to honor its founding 100 years ago.

As befitting a centennial celebration, balloons, flowers, and candles filled the parish hall where worshippers gathered after Mass to exchange some favorite memories of their years at the parish over dinner and cake.

Juanita Hamilton married at St. Rita almost 70 years ago. Thereafter, the parish has been a “very nourishing church for me and my family,” she said. She still sets up the altar before Mass “the same way I learned it from the nuns” and drops by a few times a week to say the Rosary in her favorite pew. As the parish’s oldest member, she was granted the privilege of speaking at the end of Mass.


Beginnings and Birthdays

In 1918, oil was discovered in Ranger, creating a surge in the city’s population. Father Rudolph Gerken, a missionary priest who would later become Amarillo’s first bishop and then archbishop of Santa Fe, celebrated Mass in the residence of a Catholic oilfield worker. The location changed to an auto showroom, a skating rink, and a dance hall as the number of Catholics increased.

The community broke ground on July 2, 1919 for the future St. Rita Catholic Church. Fr. Gerken served as the first of the parish’s 29 pastors to date.

Within two years, the parish opened a school, shortly followed by a second school for non-English speakers.

When oil production declined, the city’s population followed suit. The school closed in 1951, but a handful of alumni attended the centennial celebration, including Gay Ann Wolford. Wolford attended through the fifth grade and is “convinced that’s the best education I ever got.” She said being in multi-grade classrooms exposed her to advanced lessons, and she entered public school in sixth grade with the knowledge of a high school freshman.

Although a history of 100 years may seem like a long time, Bishop Olson reminded the faithful that as Catholics, we measure time differently than the rest of the world. He said, “We reckon time with an eye toward eternal life, which we’ve already begun to live through our Baptism, through our Confirmation, and through our sharing and our participation in the Eucharist.

Catholic faithful from parishes in Cisco, Eastland, and Strawn joined St. Rita parishioners for the Ranger church's centennial Mass June 8. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“We know that the boundaries of our lives are not set apart by birth and death as is for the world, but rather the boundaries of our lives are eternal because of the victory that Christ has won over sin and death,” the prelate said during his homily.

Five priests concelebrated the centennial Mass with Bishop Olson, including three former pastors and the parochial administrator, Father Vijaya Mareedu, SAC, who recognized the importance of the parish in the Eastland County community.

“Fr. VJ”, as he is known to his parishioners, explained the magnitude of the centennial celebration. He stated, “For the parishioners, it means a great deal because they had all the sacraments here from their childhood. As for me, as a priest who comes from India, I can sense the attachment they have to the church and that it means a lot for them. Especially this one [that’s turned] 100 years, seeing this long journey, they are very happy. It’s very important in their lives.”

The celebration of St. Rita’s 100th anniversary was held on Pentecost Sunday — the birthday of the Church. The significance of this concurrence was noted by the bishop, who explained that the gift of the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles with confidence, selflessness, fortitude, and hope and empowered them to share the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world.

Father "VJ" Mareedu, SAC, joyfully greets parishioner Michael Loeb after the centennial Mass June 8. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Likewise, he continued, “It’s the gift and mission and responsibility of the parish to reach out further, to the rest of the Church. Your parish has a long, long and esteemed practice of doing just that.”

Almost 20 seminarians from the diocese attended the Mass and festivities that followed, and their presence served as a reminder that the parish anniversary was not just a time for nostalgia, according to the bishop. “Our mindset is always looking forward in eternity. And so, as we celebrate this anniversary today, we have before us our hope for the future — our young people, our future priests.”

With the church and the parish hall packed, the centennial celebration felt like a homecoming. Catholics from nearby parishes in Eastland, Cisco, and Strawn attended, and former parishioners who moved away also returned, driving down the red brick road to St. Rita.

Susan Moore, a parishioner who helped organize the celebration, was delighted that the larger community celebrated this “peaceful and prayerful place for worship. The church is a beautiful place to me. When I meditate before Mass, my heart just feels the Holy Spirit.”

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