The History of St. Mary Catholic Church
The original St. Mary Catholic Church was built in 1889 under the direction of Rev. Fr. Felix De Grasse. In 1891 Bishop Theophile Meerschaert was assigned Vicar Apostolic of Indian Territory in what would years later become the State of Oklahoma. Bishop Meerschaert resided at St. Mary Church here in Guthrie. St. Mary in this time was known as the Pro-Cathedral. This is a church that functions as a cathedral before there is a diocese. Until 1906 Bishop Meerschaert resided at St. Mary. For years prior Oklahoma City had been growing at a rapidly faster pace than Guthrie. When the Diocese of Oklahoma City was established in 1905 the writing was on the wall that Oklahoma City would soon become the home of the bishop. For about 15 years St. Mary in Guthrie was the home of Oklahoma’s first bishop!
The present St. Mary Church building was constructed by Rev. Fr. John Van Gastel and was dedicated on December 27, 1920. The style is predominantly Gothic with rounded arches adding a Romanesque influence. Many have called this combination of styles and Oklahoma red brick “Prairie Gothic.” Upon completion of the current 1920 church the original 1889 church was demolished.
The altars, baptismal font, stations of the cross, and all the statues were made by the DaPrato Statuary Company of Chicago, Illinois. Although the altars appear to be marble, they are steel and iron with 24 karat gold mosaic panels, and air brushed to create a faux marble appearance. The altar was made in sections in Chicago and then shipped to Guthrie to be constructed into the high altar we know and love today. The cost for hte high altar in 1920 was $25,000.
The statues, angels, and corpus on the crucifix were made of hydro-stone, which is a mixture of plaster and straw. Steel wires were used to reinforce the hands, neck, and feet. After the plaster was sealed, five coats of lacquer were applied, and then each color is air brushed. To create flesh tones and life like appearance essence of pearl was used on all the statues. The final touch is that the statues have glass eyes to make them look realistic.
The parishioners of St. Mary are very proud of their church and all that is in it. Besides preserving the high altars and statues all these years, a restoration process has begun under the direction of a local artist to fully restore the high altar and side altars. A similar process of restoration was undertaken years ago to restore the stations of the cross. While there are likely many duplicate high altar and side altars similar to St. Mary, it is impossible to duplicate these altars. Sadly during the 1960s, at a time when building churches in a traditional style was on the wane, super-modern church architecture was pushing a minimalism. Churches in this time were mostly built of concrete and a minimal of interior decoration was the trend. In 1962, facing declining revenue due to these super-modern trends, the DaPrato Company went out of business and the molds for all the statues and altars were destroyed.
It is the current dream of the parish to continue the restoration of all that is in the church. Early plans are afoot to paint the church. A striking feature of these plans are to paint the upper apse ceiling (the rounded area of the ceiling behind the high altar) a blue color with gold stars. When visitors depart from Mass at St. Mary they comment on what a beautiful choir and church we have. We are truly blessed and continue to focus on what this parish was made for: the worship of God!
Rather than take our word for it we invite you to come to St. Mary and see for yourself what an amazing and welcoming parish we have. We hope to see you soon!
A Brief History of St. Mary Catholic School
On September 27, 1889, the day after St. Mary Church was dedicated, three Benedictine Sisters from Creston, Iowa arrived in Guthrie and opened the first parochial school in what was then the Oklahoma Territory. The sisters, Sister Alphonse Reid, Sister Rosalie Flynn, and Sister Alogisa Kenucana, taught in a makeshift classroom located in an unfinished part of the church, with desks made from planks of nail barrels and planks of wood. A few months later, on Thanksgiving Day, the school was transferred to a two-story building; the classrooms were located downstairs and living quarters for the sisters were upstairs.
St. Mary Catholic School flourished until the Great Depression. In 1933, when most families struggled to find money for food, the school was forced to close its doors. In spite of their desire to support St. Mary School, even the most devout Catholic was unable to afford the tuition and necessary transportation. Fortunately, with the advent of the post-war boom, Bishop McGuinness instructed Father John J. Sullivan to build a new school for St. Mary. Building the new school placed a tremendous burden on the parish, which had only sixty-seven families and a yearly income of $4000. Construction of the school cost $86,000 and this did not include the cost of the convent. In addition, St. Mary’s parishioners redecorated the church and purchased lots on Mansur Avenue. In spite of the large debt and the small size of the parish, St. Mary Catholic School was paid for in just one year. On May 20, 2008, St. Mary Catholic School graduated the first Eighth Grade class since the 1980s. The addition of the Seventh and Eighth Grades are concrete signs of the strength of support from the parish.
St. Mary Catholic School is a source of great joy and love and the sense of stewardship and pride that built the school still exists today. In recent years, a capital campaign provided funds for many necessary improvements to both the church and school facilities. The parish supports the growth of St. Mary School both financially and spiritually. St. Mary Catholic School is striving to keep pace with progress. It is our hope that this generation’s aspirations and dreams will be added to the rich legacy we have inherited from three determined and dedicated Benedictine Sisters.
The current principal of St. Mary Catholic School is Mrs. Jacque Cook. She is assisted by a very dedicated faculty and staff that continue to keep the school a vibrant and integral part of St. Mary Church!
Pastors of St. Mary Through the Years
Rev. Fr. Felix De Grasse, OSB 1889 - 1893
Rev. Fr. John Metter 1893 - 1895
Rev. Fr. Frederick Van der Aa 1895 - 1897
Rev. Fr. Joseph Van Hulse 1897 - 1901
Rev. Fr. Bernard Mustaers 1901 - 1906
Rev. Fr. Charles Standaert 1906 - 1917
Rev. Fr. John Van Gastel 1917 - 1925
Rev. Fr. William Glynn 1925 - 1926
Rev. Fr. William Lamb 1926 - 1929
Rev. Fr. F.X. Van Mens 1929 - 1933
Rev. Fr. James Van Gastel 1933 - 1947
Most Rev. John Sullivan 1947 - 1959
Rev. Monsignor J.J. Higgins 1959 - 1963
Rev. Fr. Daniel Keohane 1963 - 1971
Rev. Fr. Joseph Thompson 1971 - 1974
Rev. Fr. John Petuskey 1974 - 1975
Rev. Fr. Richard Beckman 1975 - 1987
Rev. Fr. Elmer Robnett 1987 - 1990
Rev. Fr. Henry Roberson 1990 - 1992
Rev. Fr. Denis Hanrahan 1992 - 2010
Rev. Fr. Robert Wood 2010 - 2013
Rev. Fr. Charles Murphy 2013 - 2015
Rev. Fr. James Wickersham 2015 - Present