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By Sister Ann Kelly, OP
December 30, 2015, Chicago – A recent visit to St. Rita Parish, where I once served, has brought back painful memories of the closing of the convent in 1995 – and hope through the transformation of the property on which it stood.
In 1995, I was visiting my brother in Arkansas and had left my car parked next to St. Rita of Cascia Convent in Chicago, where I was ministering. While in Arkansas, I received a call from Sister Lila Watt, who lived in St. Rita Convent with Sisters Margaret Denis Knight, Mary Geralda Trauscht, Armella Trauscht, and me. She told me that several pieces of façade from the convent had fallen on my car.
I did not realize the extent of the damage until I returned home, to find my car completely destroyed. The local firemen had told the Sisters that they would have to leave the convent in several months and that it had to be torn down because of its condition.
During those months, we, the Sisters and the Augustinian priests who served in the parish, had to move everything out of the convent. The priests dismantled the chapel, while we dismantled all of the convent rooms. On a cold November morning, Sister Lila and I prayed for one last time in the convent chapel before locking the doors forever.
Recently, I saw the good that came from the sadness of closing the convent. Father Joseph Stobba, OSB, who had been our pastor several years ago and is missioned again at St. Rita Parish, invited me to come and see the convent area. Sister Mary Kay Gagliano, who had served at St. Rita’s in the 1960s, came with me. After we had prayed with the priests missioned there and enjoying dinner together, Father Stobba took us to see a community garden that had been planted where the convent once stood.
The community garden is a beautiful tribute to the Adrian Dominican Sisters and the Augustinian priests and brothers who have served the parish. As we stood in the garden, I realized that we were standing in the community room area, which had been right below the chapel. It was a moving experience.
The people of St. Rita now take care of this beautiful garden, which includes a statue of St. Augustine overlooking a new grape arbor path. Thank you to Father Tony Pizzo, OSA, current pastor of St. Rita’s Parish, and to his Augustinian priests and brothers for their years of dedication.