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St. Rita of Cascia

Status: Active, Roman Catholic

Also Known As: St. Rita

Founded: 1907
Construction: 1907

Broad & Ellsworth Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19146

Visit its website

Original visit: October 13, 2007
Subsequent visits: May 2014

Where Is It?

The better half of Broad Street, right on Ellsworth in South Philadelphia.

The Skinny

What a difference a couple of miles makes. There really is an enormous dichotomy between North Broad and South Broad. It’s akin to…err, heaven and hell. I’m not suggesting South Philly is close to heaven, mind you, but it’s a heck of a lot closer than anything you’ll find in North Philly.

If you're ready to brave the Avenue of the Arts, you'll find quite a treat in St. Rita of Cascia. It's the second shrine we've seen (the first being this one).  But St. Rita has the unique distinction of functioning as both a shrine and as an Archdiocesan parish. That it's under AD control probably isn't something to celebrate, but it's administered by the Augustinians, who I trust a heck of a lot more to keep things in good working order.

St. Rita of Cascia was an Italian nun who, among other things, was noteworthy for having her forehead pierced by a thorn from the crown of thorns from Jesus’ crucifixion. She considered this wound a great gift from God, and gladly bore it for the last fifteen years of her life.

To that end, St. Rita is a very feminine church. Soft red and pink hues dominate its opulent, columned Italian-Renaissance design, and the detailed windows are heavy on the nuns. Also of note: the dominating marble altar and angel-topped baldachin, which are among the best sanctuary pieces you'll find in this city.

Outside, you don't fare quite as well, with a serious case of the St. Athanasius Effect. It looks like they took a normal church façade and stuck it on the front of a warehouse. If you look at it dead-on, everything is fine. Beautiful, even. But from a diagonal view, St. Rita is pretty funky.

Also, The Vincent de Paul Effect. Because, you know, warehouses aren't usually associated with church architecture.

I should also mention the basement shrine, which is no doubt worth viewing. Of course, it only opened in 2000, so be prepared for a thoroughly modern decor. (Anthony Visco's bronzework is quite good, though.)

Overall, one of South Philly's best.

How's It Doing?

Unlike the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, St. Rita also functions as a parish, so it’s directly under Archdiocese control. That also means they track their attendance.

Their numbers — 300ish attendance, 600ish registered population — would normally give me pause, but the shrine factor changes the rules somewhat. That notoriety, not to mention the extra influx of money, probably keeps it out of danger. 

And the thing is, this parish has already survived far worse. What's interesting is that St. Rita hasn't been a shrine for very long. The current space (formerly the lower church) opened in 2000, and the official designation came through in 2003. Why so late? By the early 1990s the parish found itself ailing, with a dwindling population and a crumbling building. Instead of giving up, though, the Augustinians rallied the troops and fought to turn the parish into a shrine. And it worked. 

So, yeah, I wish the actual parish population was larger. And maybe as Broad & Washington and Point Breeze remake themselves, it'll get there. Either way, I wouldn't bet against them.

Travel Tidbits

South Broad is generally inoffensive, so you shouldn’t be overly concerned about your safety. Getting there is the tough part. As I’ve noted before, all roads leading to South Philly suck cannoli.

Interesting Note

Their pews, at least on the right-hand side, have a pipe that runs along the ground through the center of them. If you don’t see the pipe coming, you could trip and hurt yourself.

Luckily, I have catlike reflexes.

Additional Resources

Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Program / September 26, 2011

Image Gallery

Images taken May 2014. Click to enlarge!

The Final Word

St. Rita’s is well worth your time.