St. Rita’s Academy and the Oblate Sisters of Providence
The story of St. Rita’s Academy—a convent and parochial school for Black girls—begins decades before the academy’s founding in 1912.
In the late 19th century, the pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish, Rev. Ignatius Panken, faced a conundrum. The parish—founded in 1873 at the intersection of 14th and Gay streets to serve Black Catholics—needed trained teachers to take over its school for African American children.
To solve this dilemma, Panken sent an invitation to an experienced sisterhood in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1880. The Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded in 1828, was considered the first permanent and successful Roman Catholic sisterhood for women of African descent.