Property next to St. Rita's shrine draws interest

Board member Ronald Donatucci and the Rev. Joseph Genito outside the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia. Recent publicity has raised interest from developers about land owned by the shrine.
Board member Ronald Donatucci and the Rev. Joseph Genito outside the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia. Recent publicity has raised interest from developers about land owned by the shrine. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 16, 2014

Just in time for her feast day on May 22, St. Rita seems to have interceded for her namesake shrine in South Philadelphia.

The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia has met with at least eight different developers about building on an empty lot next to the church, where its parochial school once stood.

That's a far cry from just one month ago, when St. Rita's, a Catholic landmark, had not even a nibble on the property.

St. Rita's original plans for the space didn't do justice to the corner of Broad and Ellsworth Streets, its neighbors said. Renderings by Robert W. McCauley, of Strada Architecture L.L.C. in Philadelphia, showed a one-story, prefabricated $2.5 million shedlike structure, which was all that St. Rita's could afford, according to the Rev. Joseph Genito, the shrine director and pastor.

But thanks to a bit of adverse publicity - and "the intercession of St. Rita," said Genito - he and some parish directors have heard expressions of interest from developers about a mixed-use commercial and residential project.

Developers Ken Goldenberg, of the Goldenberg Group of Blue Bell, expressed interest, according to one director on the board of St. Rita's. Goldenberg is currently developing the former Wanamaker property on Cecil B. Moore Avenue at 12th Street, with North Philadelphia's Bright Hope Baptist Church.

St. Rita's had hoped to partner with a developer to build a larger structure incorporating a parish center. Genito envisions the mixed-used development attracting not only parishioners but also local business people looking for reflection and respite. Genito wants to reawaken the parish itself.

"We're trying to revitalize," he said. A parish center could host workshops in peacekeeping skills that the shrine's patron saint displayed.

Genito describes it as teaching people "to live by the values of peacekeeping and resolution, rather than killing each other."

Ronald Donatucci, the city's Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphan's Court, sits on St. Rita's board. He confirmed that the parish is open to all development ideas, provided that they aren't at odds with the church's mission.

"Father Joe said, 'No gun shops, no controversial uses,' and we plan to stick to that," Donatucci said.

A visitors center at St. Rita's Shrine would encourage tourists to linger for several hours, learn more about St. Rita, even dine at a cafe, Genito said. Currently, there is only a small gift shop in the shrine's basement, rather than a larger parish center.

St. Rita must have had something to do with developers coming "out of the woodwork," Genito added. "She works in mysterious ways."


earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

@erinarvedlund

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