St. Rita Pre-History

1821 – Diocese of Cincinnati is formed – no special services for the deaf provided

1874 – Fr. John Macke gives private instructions to Edward Cleary

1881 – Cleary receives First Communion and Confirmation

1887-1890 – Cleary returns from Gallaudet College with a teaching degree – Archbishop William Elder asks him to start the first Catholic school for the deaf in Ohio at the cathedral parish school (Springer Institute)

1887-1888 – Sr. Bertha, S.C., assists Cleary teach weekly sign classes at St. Vincent Academy

1890 – Cleary’s school closes. The Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur accept deaf children into their convent school, providing intermittent classes until 1915.

1890-1893 – Edward Cleary goes on to teach sign language to 25 Sisters of Charity, Franciscan and Jesuit priests.

1910 – Diocesan census shows there are approximately 600 deaf children in the diocese.

1910-1912 – Seminarians are trained in sign language by Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, SND, so they can hear confessions and give Last Rites in sign language.

St. Rita Becomes a Reality

1914 – Archbishop Henry Moeller ordains Rev. Henry Waldhaus, and asks him to care for the deaf in the diocese. Fr. Waldhaus forms the Sts. Mary and Joseph Society to support his work, and buys two farms for his school. Archbishop Moeller asks the Sisters of Charity to provide teachers for Fr. Waldhaus’s school.

1915 – St. Rita School for the Deaf opens. St. Rita is chosen as patroness at the suggestion of Mother Mary Florence, SC. The first students include those from the recently closed Notre Dame Academy deaf classes.

1915-1924 – Two farm houses serve as both school and residences.

1916 – The first Annual Visiting Sunday was held – a picnic to allow visitors to see the work being done at St. Rita’s. Visiting Sunday evolved into the present St. Rita Fests.

1919 – Turtle soup was introduced by the ladies of Sts. Peter & Paul parish.

1919 – A week after Visiting Sunday a great fire destroys most of the farm buildings barns and other out- buildings. Barney Kroger leads the first Capital Campaign to provide modern brick school buildings.

1921 – Ground is broken for the new buildings.

1924 – Construction is completed and students move in.

1924-1935 – The Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a semi-religious group of deaf women, is established to provide domestic and clerical needs for the school. In 1929 they are merged into the Sisters of Charity. In 1935, the Sisters of Charity discontinue accepting deaf candidates into their community

1927 – The first high school students graduate. St. Rita receives full state accreditation, becoming the first Catholic high school for the deaf in the country.

Growth Over the Years

1957 – New high school wing constructed paid for with monies from the sale of land for the I-75 Interstate and industrial development to the east of the Interstate.

1970’s – Additions to the high school wing allow increased living and classroom space.

1971 – First remedial/vocational classes offered.

1980’s – Major renovations to the building allow even more classroom space and modernization.

1983 – The first six day students are enrolled.

1992 – LOFT day school opens with 16 children – both deaf and hearing.

2002 – Sign-N-Say classes for apraxic students started.


Learning for Life

  • Fr. Waldhaus wanted St. Rita students to be able to lead a productive life despite their handicap.
  • Students learned animal husbandry and horticulture to sustain themselves independently.
  • Students learned carpentry and architectural drafting to pursue a career.
  • Older students helped with farm chores.
  • Girls were taught homemaking skills and crafts.
  • College prep courses were available to all.


  • Take standard academic courses.
  • Receive remedial and auxiliary aid.
  • Attend joint vocational schools.
  • Take college level courses as seniors.
  • Are involved in on-the-job training programs.
  • Take part in a variety of extra-curricular activities.
  • Participate in a number of other social activities.
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