History

History

The Vision of Henry Waldhaus

St. Rita was built on 237 acres of fertile land and the dream of a young priest. The dream began when Father Henry J. Waldhaus was challenged by Archbishop Henry Moeller to provide for the deaf in the Diocese of Cincinnati. With the help of the Knights of del'Epee and the Saints Mary and Joseph Society, Father Waldhaus was able to raise the funds necessary to purchase land which would become St. Rita School in 1915. Beginning with only eleven students and a staff of three Sisters of Charity, Father Waldhaus embarked on a mission which would produce the first accredited high school for the deaf in Ohio.

As construction workers were breaking ground for new buildings, Father Waldhaus and the Sisters of Charity were breaking ground in their education of deaf children. They offered an atmosphere of learning and growing which was unique to deaf students in the Cincinnati area. The available technical equipment of the day enabled teachers to communicate with students who existed in a silent world. Religious and social training exposed the children to ways of life essential to functioning in the real world. Academic and vocational training helped the children become productive members of society. The homelike atmosphere offered camaraderie and a chance to grow and share with other deaf children.

Those first graduates of St. Rita took their dreams with them into the world, bolstered by the care and attention they received from Father Waldhaus and his staff.

Father Klenke Carries on Tradition

In 1967, Father Waldhaus died, and the dream was entrusted to his assistant, Father Paul Klenke. With twenty-seven years experience as teacher, principal and coach to help him, Father Klenke guided the school into the modern world. His passion for education inspired him to seek ways to provide improved equipment and facilities for the students. He supported students' efforts in the areas of athletics and the arts. He served as their devoted, and perhaps best, friend.

Most importantly, during his tenure as director, Father Klenke developed many friendships with people who contributed to the welfare of the school, friendships which have continued to this day, and which enable St. Rita to continue its mission. Many of the fundraising projects developed during Father Klenke's fourteen years as director still provide funds for the school and the volunteers who worked with Father Klenke to initiate these projects still offer their assistance.
 
The heritage of over 75 years of growth, built by the strength of its leaders, nurtured by the friendship of many supporters, and bonded by the love shared by its staff and students, offers St. Rita School a solid foundation for a healthy future in deaf education. St. Rita, saint of the impossible, has protected her namesake well. 
 

The Friar John of St. Rita

With the death of Father Klenke in 1981, a Franciscan friar named Father John Bok was chosen to lead the school. Father John devoted nine years to upholding the traditions established by his predecessors, at once bringing a fresh spirit and life to the school as he directed a committed governing board and a growing staff toward sound fiscal policies and a renewed relationship with the community.

Father John's efforts with the United Way/Community Chest, and with leaders in the business community, increased public awareness about the work of St. Rita School, and built bridges toward ongoing support so needed to insure its future. His association with business leaders enabled him to spearhead a capital fund drive in 1986 to fund the renovation of the school.

Father John initiated the first day school program at St. Rita School; now close to a third of the students are local, non-residents. Sign language classes for the public, guided tours of the facility and a speakers bureau have also broadened public awareness of St. Rita School during the 80's.

The Legacy Continues...

With the new decade also came a new leader, in June of 1990 Father John handed the reigns of leadership over to Gregory Ernst. With twenty one years of service to St. Rita School, as a resident advisor, teacher, athletic director and principal, Mr. Ernst is continuing the dream.

Mr. Ernst continues to expand and improve upon the program established so many years ago. He is spearheading a reverse mainstream program for hearing and deaf children, infant through three years of age.

The real dream lives on, of course, in the future of its children. The environment St. Rita School offers its students encourages them to explore the world of knowledge, to experience the arts and sports, to learn the meaning of responsibility, to develop lasting friendships, to lead productive lives.

As bright faces of St. Rita graduates enter the mainstream of adult life, they will continue to serve as shining examples of the educational and spiritual values learned within St. Rita's walls. Making their dreams a reality is what St. Rita School is all about; that was Father Waldhaus' dream, too.
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