Rich in History
When Comanche County was opened in 1901, the only resident priest was Rev. Isidore Rickin, O.S.B., the founder and superintendent of St. Patrick's Mission near the Anadarko Indian Agency. Father Isidore visited the tent dwellers of Lawton following his Ft. Sill services and celebrated Mass with them several times in 1901.
Lawton became a city on August 6, 1901. The first funeral in the city was held in November for Miss Naomi Broe, a typhoid fever victim. The Requiem Mass was celebrated by Rev. Urban de Hasque who traveled from Chickasha. The funeral was held in the upstairs living room, over Mr. Broe's newly-completed hardware store.
Fr. de Hasque returned to Lawton several times. He celebrated Mass in a storeroom on "E" Street and in the home of Dr. Joseph and Mary Mullins. Regular Masses were said on the fourth Sunday of each month.
In January 1902 the second Catholic funeral was conducted in a tent. Burial was in the new city cemetery north of town. The property title was not yet settled, therefore no reservations could be made for a Catholic section (a custom of those days). Many Catholics were taken to Anadarko for burial, where a section of the city cemetery had been set aside for Catholics.
On June 11, 1902 Bishop Theophile Meerschaert, accompanied by Rev. Zenon Steber and Fr. de Hasque, traveled to Lawton. The following day he administered Confirmation to sixteen children and First Holy Communion to twelve. The Bishop took advantage of the large crowd, more non-Catholics than Catholics, to proclaim his interest in Lawton, introducing Father Steber as the first resident pastor at Lawton. The Bishop appealed to all citizens to help Fr. Steber in building a church and eventually a school.
Fr. Steber occupied two front rooms over the Red Store, while the hall in the rear was used for a church. The Red Store, founded in 1886, was located north of the Indian School, east of the intersection of Rogers Lane and U.S. 277. An Indian trading business, it was the central supply store for the area. The store was called the Red Store not only because it was red, but because it served the "red people." Catholic Masses, as well as protestant services, were held there.
During this time, progressive Catholics in Lawton bought land on the comer of 7th and North Boundary, or Grandview (Gore Blvd). Fr. Steber remained only a few months. He was succeeded by Rev. William Huffer in November 1902. Fr. Huffer directed the building of a frame church on the new site. He also built a two-room rectory south of the church. The first Catholic church in Lawton was dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament by Bishop Meerschaert on August 19, 1903.
In October, 1905 the young Rev. William P: Lamb was appointed to Lawton. Being Catholic in the early days of Oklahoma was not easy. Catholics were few in number and kept a low profile; the Church of Rome was viewed with suspicion. But Father Lamb was an extrovert; he enjoyed socializing with people of the community.
Fr. Lamb petitioned the superior of the Congregation of Divine Providence, Reverend Mother M. Florence, to send Sisters to open a school. A four-room frame building was erected to serve as the first home of the parish school. In the fall of 1907 (the same year in which Oklahoma became a state) five Sisters arrived from San Antonio, Texas. On September 2, 1907 St. Mary's Academy was opened. Seventy-five students received a Catholic education that first year.
In the summer of 1918, because of the increasing number of pupils, a new school was greatly needed. The old frame school buildings were sold to make room for the erection of the brick structure east of the church. The new $20,000 school building was planned and built by Albert Landoll. The west side of the top floor served as a dormitory for the Sisters.
On January 14, 1924 the frame church was destroyed by fire. Many in the community suspected that the active Ku Klux Klan was responsible. Neighboring churches and people of the community raised money to help. Fr. Lamb confided to parishioner Ray Schram that he believed it was really the old wood stove that caused the fire, but he happily accepted the gift anyway.
Albert Landoll undertook the construction of the present day building using construction plans for a church that had been built in other locations in Ohio and Kansas. He enlisted the help of fellow parishioners such as Steve Babek, Mr. Calaway and the Stanton brothers.
Because of limited space between 7th Street and the existing school building, the new church was built ten feet shorter than the original design. In addition, the plans called for interior columns at each arch to support a wood roof structure. Steel roof trusses were used so that the columns could be omitted. Upon its completion the structure was the tallest building in Lawton. The cost of the new church was approximately $35,000.
At the end of 1925 word was received that the Bishop had appointed Fr. Lamb to Guthrie. Work on the building was rushed so that Fr. Lamb could celebrate the first Mass in the new church before his departure. Fr. Lamb was succeeded by Rev. Charles Van Hulse who arrived here on December 31, 1925. His first task was to complete the new church. The building was dedicated on May 30, 1926 by Bishop Kelley.
An immigrant from Belgium, Father Charles came to Oklahoma in 1897 when the Diocese of Oklahoma was still in its infancy. He experienced the hardships of those early days. He loved books and collected many for the library of St. Mary's Academy. In 1935, after serving as pastor for ten years and finding himself in need of a rest, Fr. Charles asked the Bishop to accept his resignation. He requested that his friend of many years, Rev. Ben Hulshof, take his place and that he be granted the privilege of remaining in Lawton. The Bishop finally consented, conferring on Fr. Charles the honorary title of Pastor Emeritus. He remained with Father Ben until his death in 1951.
Fr. Ben took up his duties here on January 20, 1935. His first concern was the crowded condition of the school. He arranged for more classrooms and was able to purchase the property east of the school. The two-story frame house on the lot was enlarged and renovated to serve as the convent. This enabled the Sisters to move out of the top floor of the brick school.
In 1940 the State Department of Education forced the school to change its name from St. Mary's Academy to St. Mary's School. This caused much unhappiness among students and parishioners. According to the official definition, an "academy" housed boarders and there had been no boarders at St. Mary's since before the church burned in 1924.
In the early 1940's, through the donations of various parishioners, the stained glass windows were installed at a cost of approximately $600 per window. These irreplaceable windows (shipped from Italy) were made using a process that blended different colors of glass to create detailed features. Several years later, after damage from hail and vandalism, clear protective glass panels were installed on the outside. The fifteen year period from 1950 to 1965 was a period of phenomenal growth in both the church and the school. Fr. Ben was honored by Pope Pius XII in March 1953, when he was elevated to the rank of Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Reverend Monsignor.
The vacant house on the comer of 7th and "A" was purchased and became the new rectory. The old rectory was tom down (1955 est.) to allow for more playground and parking. The first phase of the high school was built. Construction drawings were completed in April 1955 for an addition that included an auditorium and gymnasium, cafeteria and second-story classrooms.
The 1950's spawned the tradition of the annual Blessed Sacrament Church Carnival. Blessed Sacrament had the distinction of having the largest church carnival in Oklahoma. Every fall Charley Wade Oldsmobile furnished a new automobile to be raffled off. For many years the carnival was held outdoors on the parking lot.
In the late 1950s, Lawton began its first attempt at Urban Renewal. The six houses on the block that did not belong to Blessed Sacrament were condemned. But the church had no reserve funds to purchase the property. Parishioner Carl Benke received permission from Fr. Ben to approach other parishioners for private donations. Blessed Sacrament Church became the owner of the "whole city block." The houses were removed and the land was made into playgrounds and parking lots.
Masses were crowded; the church had three assistants. It was time to split the congregation. Land was obtained at 25th and Lincoln. St. Barbara's Church and School was founded to serve Catholics who lived on the north and west side of Lawton. St. Barbara's later sold all holdings on Lincoln and moved to 82nd and Old Cache Road. The name was changed to Holy Family Catholic Church.
Rev. T. Wade Darnall became pastor in 1961. During his time at Blessed Sacrament, the vacated McKinley public school building at 4th and Columbia was purchased to expand a booming St. Mary's School. Its name was later changed to John F. Kennedy School. Money was needed for an addition to the old convent. Several anonymous donors provided the funding. Bernard H. Fehring coordinated the construction of an annex. Later in 1969. the annex was renovated to include kitchen and dining space so that the Sisters could move from the old portion of the convent.
Prior to Vatican II (1963-1965), the inside of the church was adorned with many beautiful statues. A massive altar stood at the rear of the knave. There was an altar rail for receiving Communion in the kneeling position. These features were removed in 1964 (est.).
In 1966, facing dropping enrollment, State Department of Education intervention, and what seemed to be insurmountable financial problems, St. Mary's High School was closed. The elementary and junior high grades were returned to the present site in 1967. When John F. Kennedy school was closed, the building sat vacant for several years. Amidst objections from the surrounding community, the Archdiocese wanted to build low income housing at the site. A landmark court decision upheld the Church's right to do so.
In June 1969, Rev. Elmer C. Schwarz took over as pastor at Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Schwarz strengthened the school and reduced the church debt. He had been a choir director and spent much of his time in the school teaching music appreciation, science and religion. He helped in the cafeteria and drove the school bus. He was active in the community ecumenical affairs. His brother, Fr. Bernard Schwarz, was his assistant for a short time.
Rev. Elmer C. Robnett became pastor in June 1975. He moved the church offices to the basement of the R.E. Building. Through the efforts of parishioner Dr. Robert Krebsbach and Fr. Robnett, hundreds of southeast Asians refugees were sponsored and brought to the Lawton area.
Again, in 1986, due to financial concerns, consideration was given to closing St. Mary's School. Parishioner and St. Mary's graduate, Max R. Seibold, campaigned against the closing. Shortly thereafter, Maggy Oppenheimer was hired as the new principal. With her energy, enthusiasm and vision leading the way, teachers, parents and parishioners worked to revitalize the school.
In July 1987, Rev. James D. M. Stafford left Holy Family Catholic Church to become pastor of Blessed Sacrament. He immediately began to plan for a new rectory to be erected south of the church on the original site of the first rectory (built by Fr. Huffer in 1902). The construction which was completed in 1988 included a connecting covered walkway to an elevator and a new Reconciliation room. The old rectory was removed to make way for a paved parking lot west of the school.
In Fr. Stafford's first ten years at Blessed Sacrament, he faced many building improvement challenges. Through the support of the parish organizations, private donations and many volunteer hours, necessary improvements were made to all of the buildings. Leaking roofs were replaced, painting was done (both inside and out), air conditioning upgrades were made, the church sign was constructed and the courtyard area was established.
In 1994, the church was redecorated. Hues of harvest gold, burnt orange and deep rose with sky blue accents, gold faux gilding, and hand-painted stenciling brought a renewed vibrance to the interior of the church.
Fr. Stafford's support of St. Mary's School has been instrumental in its survival as the only Catholic school in southwest Oklahoma. In September 1997, under the guidance of principal, Sister Blandina Paul, CDP, they celebrated the 90th birthday of St. Mary's Catholic School.
1901-1901 Father Isidore Ricklin, O.S.B.
1901-1902 Father Urban de Hasque
1902-1902 Father Zenon Steber
1902-1905 Father William Huffer
1905-1925 Father William P. Lamb
1925-1935 Father Charles Van Hulse
1935-1961 Father Ben Hulshof
1961-1969 Father T. Wade Darnall
1969-1975 Father Elmer C. Schwarz
1975-1987 Father Elmer C. Robnett
1987-2008 Father James D.M. Stafford
2008-2015 Father Joseph P. Ross
2015-2015 Father Shayne Tharp
2015-2016 Father Michael Chapman (Administrator)
2016-Present Father Brian E. Buettner
Recognizing the importance of the past gives us a deeper appreciation of the present. We should ever be mindful that today is tomorrow's past. As parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish, we are all a part of its rich history, whether our ancestors were among the pioneers or whether we just arrived. It is an awesome privilege to be a part of the Catholic Church and its 2000 year history as we continue in the Apostolic tradition of Celebrating the Body of Christ.
This condensed history of Blessed Sacrament Parish was compiled by Wendy Wright Tatroult in August 1997 from the following sources:
Blessed Sacrament-Lawton Parish Founded Under Benedictines.The Southwest Courier-Diocesan Golden Jubilee Supplement. October 8, 1955.
Murphy, Sister Angelina, CDP. 80 for Those Who Are Strong: A History of St. Mary's School in Lawton. 1988
Blessed Sacrament Parish 75th Anniversary Booklet. 1977
Many personal interviews
Photographs contributed by parishioners
Historical Research: Genevieve Hickman, Charles Benke/Benke Family, Diana Landoll/Landoll Family, Wendy Wright Tatroult