Logo
Print this page

After working with 49 priests, Rita McHale retires from St. Louise

Rita McHale wears a Seattle Seahawks jersey on a recent “blue Friday” at St. Louise Parish in Bellevue. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish Rita McHale wears a Seattle Seahawks jersey on a recent “blue Friday” at St. Louise Parish in Bellevue. Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish

BELLEVUE – After Rita McHale moved to Bellevue in 1960, her new pastor stopped by for a visit. St. Louise de Marillac Church wasn’t built yet, and Father Howard Lavelle noticed an opportunity — McHale’s home had a large daylight basement.

Soon, McHale was a volunteer, teaching religious education (then called CCD) to parish children in her basement.

In the years since, McHale has worked with 49 priests, serving as housekeeper, cook, secretary and administrative assistant. “I enjoyed every job I did,” said McHale, who retires from St. Louise Oct. 14 after 54 years as an employee.

“It’s just an amazing accomplishment for someone to give that many years,” said Father Gary Zender, pastor at St. Louise for the past two years. McHale, he said, “has a great love of the priests who worked with her.”

In the days when parish priests had a staff cook to prepare their meals, Father Mike Holland suggested to Father Lavelle to hire McHale as cook. In some ways, she said, it was similar to cooking for her family, but “I had to be a little more fancier for the priests.” That was especially true when she had to prepare large dinners for priests from the Eastside Deanery. Over the years, McHale said, she had to expand her culinary knowledge and learn how to pair wine with certain meals. 

In more than a half-century of parish service, McHale has seen a lot of changes at St. Louise. 

Rita McHale
Rita McHale has worked with 49 priests at St. Louise Parish in Bellevue, including current pastor Father Gary Zender. Father Zender said he wore a Seahawks jersey at McHale’s retirement reception “in honor of her dedication to the Seahawks, which is second only to her devotion to St. Louise.” Photo: Courtesy St. Louise Parish

When she arrived in 1960, the parish had about 970 families. Sunday Mass was celebrated at Sammamish High School until the church building at 141 156th Ave. S.E. in Bellevue was completed. The parish complex, including the church, school and convent, was dedicated in September 1961.

McHale’s four children attended the parish school, then staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. The school was expanded a few years after opening and a gymnasium was added in 1979. A major remodeling of the original church was completed in 1981.

Today, St. Louise has about 3,000 households and is much more diverse, McHale said, with significant Filipino, Vietnamese and Hispanic communities.

McHale, St. Louise’s administrative assistant since 1982, awakens early every day and often arrives at the parish office by 5:30 a.m. (She’s also a fixture at the 7:30 a.m. Sunday Mass.)

She helps keep the parish rolling with her work in the accounting office. “I call her the Energizer Bunny because she keeps going, going and going,” said Barbara Abbott, the parish bookkeeper who shared an office with McHale.

Elsie Ganzkow recalls the fun she and McHale had organizing those CCD classes so many years ago. “She’s good to work with,” Ganzkow said.

A big fan of the Seattle Seahawks, McHale often wears a Seahawks jersey on “blue Fridays” to show her support. To mark her 50th anniversary at the parish, McHale received a Seahawks jersey with her name on the back.

At a retirement party for McHale, Father Zender wore a Seahawks jersey, “in honor of her dedication to the Seahawks, which is second only to her devotion to St. Louise,” he said in an email.

McHale said she will miss the people and priests she worked with over the years.

“You receive many blessings when you are working for the church,” she said.

Northwest Catholic. All Rights Reserved.