History

History

The Vision of Henry Waldhaus

In 1914, Archbishop Moeller ordained Fr. Henry Waldhaus and asked the newly ordained priest to provide education for the Deaf in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Fr. Waldhaus founded the Saints Mary and Joseph Society and enlisted the help of the Knights of De l'Epee (a fraternal organization of Deaf Catholics) to assist with the purchase of 237 acres of farmland where the school would be located. The school opened with eleven students and staffed by three Sisters of Charity in addition to Fr. Waldhaus. Soon, St. Rita would become the first accredited high school for the Deaf in Ohio.

Best practices for educating the Deaf during this time period recommended a boarding school approach. This allowed St. Rita to provide a ‘homelike’ atmosphere in which Deaf children had full communication access and develop strong support systems. A Catholic education, combined with a rigorous academic program and vocational training ensured students could become productive members of society.St. Rita was built on two farm properties north of Lockland, Ohio. After the school day ended, the male students would then complete their farm chores while the female students learned skills related to home economics. During his time in charge at the school, Fr. Waldhaus was given the honorary title of “Monsignor” for the exceptional service he provided to the Catholic Church through his service to the Deaf. In the 1950s, Msgr. Waldhaus oversaw the first expansion of the school, adding more dormitory space for high school students and a new gymnasium. In August of 1976, Msgr. Waldhaus passed away and his assistant, Fr. Paul Klenke, assumed the school’s leadership position.

Father Paul Klenke

Fr. Klenke served the students at St. Rita for twenty-seven years as an athletic coach, teacher, and principal before he was entrusted with guiding the school into the modern world. His passion for the mission of St. Rita drove him to build strong relationships with the surrounding community which supported the school. This allowed students at St. Rita to have access to new equipment and updated facilities. He especially supported students in their artistic and athletic endeavors.
 
Fr. Klenke passed away in 1981 and Fr. John Bok, a Franciscan Friar, was selected to lead the school.

Father John Bok

Father Bok brought a fresh spirit and life to the school.  He established a new governing board and guided a growing school towards sound fiscal policies and a renewed relationship with the community.
 
Renewed outreach to the United Way/Community Chest and local business leaders increased public awareness about the important work undertaken at St. Rita.  These relationships led to a successful capital drive in 1986 to fund the renovation of the school.
 
During his tenure, the first day (non-residential) school program at St. Rita School.  This program quickly grew to encompass 1/3 of the entire student population.  St. Rita also began offering American Sign Language classes for the public and guided tours of the facility in order to broadened public awareness of the school during the 1980s.   

Greg Ernst

In June of 1990, Father Bok retired and Mr. Greg Ernst became the new Executive Director of the school.  He had previously served as a resident advisor, teacher, athletic director and principal during his twenty one years of employment at St. Rita.
 
Mr. Ernst continued to expand and improve upon the programs offered at St. Rita.  He founded the Language Opportunity for Tots (L.O.F.T.) Program.  It was a reverse mainstream program in which typical children were placed into clasrooms with peers who had special communication needs.  This program was available to children 6 months through 3 years of age.
 
In July of 2016, after 47 years of service to St. Rita School for the Deaf, Mr. Ernst retired. 

Sr. Marianne Van Vurst S.C.

Sr. Marianne Van Vurst S.C. was appointed as the Interim President by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr.  This appointment coincided with an administrative restructuring which saw the school follow the President-Principal model of school governance.
 
In February 2017, Sr. Marianne was named President of the school by Archbishop Schnurr.  She guided the school through a challenging period marked by the temporary suspension of the L.O.F.T. program and the closure of the residential student program.  However, at the same time, the Career Plus Program began to provide students with the skills necessary for competitive employment and independent living.  Sr. Marianne retired as President at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 year.  

Angela Frith

In August of 2018, Mrs. Angela Frith was appointed by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to lead the school.  While the school mission remains the same, the students served by the school continued to change.  Under Mrs. Frith's leadership, St. Rita continues to adapt to meet the special communication needs of the students entrusted to the school - whether they are Deaf or Hard-oHearing, have Apraxia of Speech or Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Down Syndrome.  
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