The History of St. Rita Catholic Church
Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
May 2007 will mark 25 years for Saint Rita in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida
A look a Parish History:
Santa Rosa Beach in the early 1960’s and 1970’s was sparsely populated; there was no Catholic church. Catholics attended Mass at St. Mary’s in Fort Walton Beach or St. Bernadette’s in Panama City. As the area grew so did the numbers of Catholics. A few Santa Rosa families began meeting and celebrating Mass in private homes with Vicarate Father Stempliglio Fausto. About the same time in Destin, Joe Vota built a rectory with a large all purpose room; this became Corpus Christi. As numbers increased, Fr. Cunningham, from Corpus Christi in Destin offered a Mass at the Gulf Shore Condominium all-purpose room and later at the Destin Grade School.
By 1978 the Diocese recognized the need for a church in Santa Rosa Beach. The Most Reverend Rene H. Garcida, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee dedicated the first church in 1983. It stood at the corner of Moll Drive and Highway 98. The first Mass was celebrated on Palm Sunday. Fr. Brendan J. Heaslip was the first Pastor of St. Rita with Deacon Joseph Vota as his Deacon (1983-1997.
Growth was steady through the mid- 1980’s and the mid-1990’s. During this time a rectory was constructed. Subsequent leadership included: Fr. Eugene D. Casserly (1985), Fr. Hugh E. Dolan (1987), and Fr. Dennis J. O’Brien (1997). The need for a larger church was clear and plans were developed.
Fr. James Flaherty, later Monsignor, became Pastor of St. Rita and Christ the King Mission in Freeport in 1998. By 1999 the State of Florida bought the property on which the first church stood and razed the building so it could widen Highway 98. The state action prompted the construction of a new church. Santa Rosa Village Shopping Center, a strip mall, became St. Rita’s temporary home.
On September 12, 1999 The Most Reverend John H. Ricard SSJ, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee blessed the building site for the current church at a ground breaking ceremony. The architect for the building was parishioner, Matt Savoie.
The first Mass in the new church was celebrated on Christmas 2000.
Continued growth during the construction period prompted the conversion of the rectory into office and classroom space. Parishioners purchased a new rectory in Flamingo Village on Highway 30-A. Two new Deacons joined the parish: Deacon Dave R. Casey came from Holy Name of Jesus in Freeport; that same year saw the ordination of the parish’s own Deacon Jeff Trumps.
Fr. Thomas S. Collins was assigned as Administrator of St. Rita Parish and Christ the King Mission on June 7, 2002, the 10th Anniversary of his Ordination; he became Pastor in November 24, 2003. St. Rita opened a preschool in 2004 which has operated at capacity from day one. It quickly became apparent that the Parish needed even more space; two portable buildings were added to temporarily house expanding educational and social functions.
St. Rita continues to be blessed with an enduring sense of family, community and growth in membership. She maintains commitment to proclaim Christ to the world, to love and to serve God by loving and serving others. As of July 2006 there were 400 families.
Father Kevin was born and raised in Ft Walton Beach, Florida. He is the 5th of 7 children. He attended St Mary’s Catholic Grade School, Choctawhatchee High School and Okaloosa Walton Jr. College. From 1979-1982 he attended Cardinal Glennon College seminary in St Louis, Mo. His most recent assignment was as the pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church in Tallahassee for the last 13 years.
History of the Sanctuary Crucifix
The breath taking
Crucifix hanging above the sanctuary was built by the late Robert
(Bob) Borella. He personally selected each piece of lumber and
ordered the Corpus. The cross is 12 feet long which symbolizes the
12 Apostles. The timber dimensions are 10 by 3 inches wide. Ten for
St. Rita Has Lost one of it's true pillars of our parish I am sad to report that Bob Borella passed away Augaust 15 2012. Bob was responsible for the construction of our Crucifix that hangs in the sanctuary.
137 Moll Drive Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459 (850) 267-2558 FAX (850) 267-3711