A Brief History of St. Rita's


The Church of St. Rita in Cottage Grove was incorporated as a parish of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Sept. 1, 1966.  Fr. John Brandes, our first pastor, recruited families from St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park to join the new parish, and began holding Mass for 350 families at Park High School until a church structure could be built.

The original parish buildingThe original church, pictured at left, was built in 1970 at its current location on 80th Street. It was a stark, modern structure of white concrete blocks. It was designed with the idea that the community would celebrate the Mass in two different places: The Theater of the Word in what is now Seton Hall, and the Hall of Celebration for Eucharist, in a space where the office staff and the sacristy are now located. The Eucharist area was never built due to financial constraints.

The first staff member, Sr. Carol Murnan, began the sacramental preparation program and held classes in the multi-purpose area. Since then, Faith Formation classes have taken place in this space and in Seton Hall. Now they will be held in the classrooms in our new addition.

In 1986, the first addition to the church building was constructed, with an exterior of white stucco. The building corners were curved to represent the warmth of Christ’s encircling love. This addition included our current worship space along with the chapel, reconciliation rooms, administration offices and workspace for staff.

Seton Hall was also remodeled, and the 36-foot bell tower was built at that time. It holds a massive 2,100-pound bell, which we obtained from St. Joseph’s Parish in Emmett, South Dakota.  

A new kitchen was added to Seton Hall in 1998 to serve our parish’s growing activities. That same year the statue of our patron, St. Rita, was placed at the entrance to our building. St. Rita is depicted with an outstretched arm, welcoming all to our church.

Our award-winning gardens were installed in 2005 under the direction of parishioner Anita Kerper, a landscape architect and owner of BloomScapes Inc.

The parish continued to grow under the spiritual guidance of many wonderful priests.

St. Rita’s suffered a tremendous loss in 2004 when our pastor at that time, Fr. Jim Grogan, died of an inoperable brain aneurysm. The outdoor cross at our driveway entrance, which was installed in 2006, is dedicated in his honor.  

To address the growth of our parish catechetical programs, Fr. Bill Deziel formed a committee in 2010 to begin planning an addition to the church building. Fr. Rick Banker, our current pastor, continued this effort to its successful conclusion, and the new addition is being dedicated on April 17, 2016, as part of our 50th Anniversary celebration.  

 In recent years, we have added several new elements to the worship space, including a new tabernacle, a new cross/corpus, enhanced Stations of the Cross, a statue of the Virgin Mary, and kneelers – all paid for through generous donations from our parish community.

Both the tabernacle and altar have been moved to the center of the sanctuary.

Deacon Jack Nicklay, a fine woodworker, constructed a new tabernacle stand that matches the design of the original altar and ambo. Deacon Jack has also built shelves, tables and many other items that add to our beautiful space.

The chapel has also been enlarged to hold the increasing number of worshipers at daily Mass and Adoration.

In 2012, we were blessed when Fr. Evan Koop, who grew up in our parish, was ordained. He is the first priest to be ordained from St. Rita’s.

St. Rita’s parish has also experienced tremendous spiritual growth over the past 50 years, through the leadership of our nine pastors and the gifts each of them has brought to our community.

We also have grown in faith together through our liturgies, faith formation programs, RCIA, charitable and social outreach programs, and the involvement of parishioners in our many clubs, Bible studies, and committees.

The members of St. Rita’s staff, who are vital to this parish, keep all of these programs running along with the help of our great volunteers.

Since our beginning days as a parish led by Fr. Brandes, St. Rita’s has been known for our hospitality and the warm welcome we extend to all individuals, wherever they are in their faith journey.

The Church of St. Rita has been and continues to be truly blessed by the Holy Spirit. We look to the future full of hope, and ask the Lord to look with favor upon us as we live out our mission to “Connect Faith and Life” in our community.