As Christians in the New Orleans area converge on Ash Wednesday services today, going through the Christian ritual of penance and transformation, several area churches are going through changes of their own. Some churches are having to change to attract new members and keep numbers up. St. Rita Catholic Church has gotten creative to breathe new life into the church, which was established in 1921 and is located on Lowerline Street. The Rev. Peter Finney III is the church’s administrator and oversees the day-to-day operations of the church and school. “Like many other New Orleans churches, the number of registered families and the Mass attendance at St. Rita has ebbed and flowed through the years,” Finney said. Last summer, St. Rita’s partnered with students from Notre Dame Seminary and the result was an uptick in weekly Mass attendance and a new energy inside the church’s walls. The partnership, which was established by the Rev. James Wehner, rector of Notre Dame Seminary and St. Rita’s pastor and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, poured about 75 additional worshipers into Sunday’s 10:30 a.m. Masses. “Having a bigger community of men who are prayerful and engaged in the liturgy has brought a new energy to the Mass, as well as to the church overall,” Finney said. “As the celebrant of the Mass, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of parishioners who are now attending the Mass. It’s encouraging for them to know that all of these men will one day be serving as priests in churches. That makes them feel better about the future.” Before the seminarians partnered with St. Rita, the Mass attendance in all three weekend Masses was 200. Now the average is 350. But the move hasn’t just affected Mass attendance. It has improved numbers throughout the church’s activities. In October, the church holds its annual picnic. “We usually have about 20 or 30 parishioners at the picnic,” Finney said. “Last fall, we had more than 250 — and in previous years the picnic would last about 45 minutes, and then everyone would leave. The one we had last October lasted four hours.”
Read on. And check out the video above for more on St. Rita’s.