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.