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Deferiet church to commemorate 101 years

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DEFERIET — At a time when attendance is low and many Catholic churches are closing, one parish is celebrating 101 years in existence.

St. Rita of Cascia Catholic Church, 31 Riverside Drive, was incorporated Jan. 11, 1913. Parishioners mainly of Polish and Italian descent built the church on land deeded to them by the St. Regis Paper Mill May 8, 1913, according to former village historian and now Mayor Janet M. Zando. The first church trustees were Terence McManus and Michael Adams.

St. Rita’s began as a missionary church of St. James Church in Carthage. Marie Adams Pais, the youngest of 16 children of Michael and Anna Dvorchak Adams, still resides in Deferiet.

“When the church was built in 1913, it was not only a church but a social gathering place,” Ms. Zando said. “It would have been very important to them giving a sense of home, and I think the church evolved because of that.”

St. Rita of Cascia, the church’s namesake, was an Augustinian nun in Italy from 1417 until her death in 1457. Before becoming a religious figure, she was a wife and mother. At age 60, during meditation, a small wound, similar to those said to have been caused by the crown of thorns placed on Jesus Christ, appeared on the nun’s forehead. She bore this wound for the remainder of her life and became known as the Saint of the Thorn. She also was called the Saint of the Rose after an extraordinary event of a rose blooming in winter in her parents’ garden at her bequest. St. Rita is invoked as the Saint of the Impossible because of the difficulties she overcame to become a nun and fulfill her holy life.

The Rev. Daniel A. Herron, Order of St. Augustine, was the first priest at the church. He was succeeded by the Rev. Alfred H. Valiquette, who attended to the church until it became a mission of St. Paul’s in Black River in 1922.

Ms. Zando said the church was expanded and rededicated in 1939 to give it a cross shape.

“I think it shows a commitment, since that was in the middle of the Great Depression,” she said.

The church was rededicated Dec. 5, 1939, by the Most Rev. Francis Joseph Monaghan, the fourth bishop of Ogdensburg.

St. Rita’s first diocesan pastor was the Rev. Hollis D. Burns. The Rev. James A. Fix assumed charge Jan. 1, 1937, and served for 21 years.

In 1958, St. Rita’s was established as a new parish with the Rev. Francis B. Ruddy, who previously served at St. Mary’s in Ticonderoga, as the first pastor. Other pastors have included the Revs. Edward E. Papp, Edward Bruso, John M. Crable, Patrick C. Callaghanand Eugene A. Kelly.

The interior of the church was renovated in 1975. With the removal of the white altar and communion railing, pulpit and confessionals, a three-tiered, terraced altar was installed. The organ was moved to the right wing of the church where the confessionals had been and stained-glass windows were installed in the front of the church and in the entranceway. According to a Carthage Republican Tribune article, the remodeling of the altar was done by parishioners Nicholas Cassoni, John Croitz, Richard Martin, Stephen Krall and Marie Pais under the direction of the Rev. Roland Hart, pastor at the time.

After it lost its resident priest, the Rev. Francis A. Menard, in 1984, the church’s pastoral needs again were met by the Augustinian priests serving in Carthage.

When the Augustinians left the area in 1997, the Diocese of Ogdensburg began assigning priests to the parish and, although it remains its own parish, it shares a priest with St. Paul’s. The Rev. Robert L. Decker now attends to the needs of the church while the Rev. Garvin J. Demarais is on medical leave.

Although numbers are dwindling, Ms. Zando said, the church continues to be an important part of the community. She said that parishioners have continued to attend the church where they were baptized and received their First Communion and that it would be difficult for older parishioners if the church closed. Then-trustee Eileen Baker noted in an article published in a 1993 edition of “North Country Catholic,” “Parishioners of St. Rita’s feel a special closeness to the church since many fathers of current parishioners actually built the church themselves.”

Ms. Zando, along with Mary Ann Yuhas and Patricia Turpin, have planned a special Mass for 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11,, which is also the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Ms. Turpin and Ms. Zando will serve as readers, Deacon William S. Raven will say the Gospel and Ogdensburg Bishop Terry R. LaValley will be the homilist.

“I am so very happy and privileged to join the parishioners in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the incorporation of St. Rita’s Church in Deferiet,” Bishop LaValley said. “The parishioners of St. Rita’s continue to work hard in support of the parish as they share their Catholic faith. With much gratitude, I ask God’s continued blessings on this family of faith.”

Following the Mass, there will be a dinner at the village municipal building, 68 Riverside Drive. All are welcome to attend. Those attending may call ahead to the rectory at 773-5672 or call Ms. Zando at 493-0318. Free-will offerings will be accepted at the dinner.

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