Ninety years ago, Solon was a small community in Southeastern Cuyahoga County that had been incorporated as a village only a dozen years earlier.
There was no Catholic parish in the village. In 1925, St. Rita Church operated as a mission of St. Joseph Parish in Mantua, with Mass celebrated at Geauga Lake Park in the summer and at Mrs. Edward “Ma” Kilbane’s Public House on Aurora Road in the winter.
As the community grew, so did the parish, with Msgr. Olrich Mazanec named as the founding pastor in 1929, according to St. Rita Parish’s history. The first church, a frame building that could hold 200 people, was constructed at the corner of Parkway and Baldwin roads. The first Mass was celebrated on Nov. 28, 1929 – Thanksgiving Day.
On Nov. 23 – the Saturday before Thanksgiving – Bishop Nelson Perez joined the St. Rita Parish community to celebrate the parish’s 90th anniversary with a Mass and reception. As the city grew, so did St. Rita’s. Today, more than 3,000 families are parishioners.
The bishop told the packed church that this was the end of the Church year. “Today is like New Year’s Eve,” he quipped, noting that next weekend will be the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. The Church was celebrating the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The bishop reflected on Jesus as a king, noting that he had an atypical crown – a crown of thorns – and his throne was a cross.
He also talked about love and how what we refer to as love – “anything from pizza to people” – really isn’t love. An encounter with the risen Lord shows us what love is.
“Ninety years ago, this parish encountered Christ,” he said, telling the congregation they exist to celebrate the Eucharist, which is at the center of our faith.
The bishop also shared some thoughts from Pope Francis about a parish, noting it “isn’t a religious club. It’s a place you go to, but it’s also a place you go from. The last words of Jesus on this planet were ‘Go to all the nations and make disciples,’” Bishop Perez said.
According to Pope Francis, a parish is not an outdated institution. In fact, it can have great flexibility and assume different contours, depending on the openness and missionary activity of the pastor and community.
“This is a time of self-renewal for you,” the bishop said. He reminded parishioners that the Church is not a building. “This is a temple. Buildings come and go.” In the Holy Land, he said churches can be three or four deep – built on top of each other.
“But the Church is bigger than a building; it’s bigger than a parish. According to the Holy Father, it lives among the homes of its sons and daughters,” he said, adding that a parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory. The mission of a parish is to encourage and train its members to be evangelists, to serve as a place of nourishment where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey.
“We need to be grateful to those who came before us and passed on this gift to you,” he said. One parishioner, who is a longtime member of St. Rita’s, said it was a wonderful place – like a family.
“This is a day to reimagine yourselves,” the bishop said. “Think about how you can pass on the gift that you’ve been given.”
Father Richard Burchell, St. Rita’s pastor for the past 14 years, thanked the bishop for celebrating with the parish. He noted that one day recently there was a bad accident near the school and instinctively, the students started praying for those involved.
“We’re doing something right,” Father Burchell said.
After greeting parishioners in the gathering area after Mass, the bishop joined the parish community for a reception in Mazanec Hall – named in honor of the first pastor.