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Oklahoma City neighborhoods: Riverside area is built on faith

Margarita Martinez is the heart and soul of Little Flower Church, which in turn is the heart and soul of its south Oklahoma City neighborhood.
BY HANNAH COVINGTON Modified: August 1, 2013 at 2:38 pm •  Published: August 4, 2013

By 11:40 a.m. on any given Sunday, she already is out the door.

Her five cats open an eye or flick a tail as she goes.

Mass begins at noon. If it's not raining and she feels good, Margarita Martinez crosses the street, her beige cane in hand, to the Riverside neighborhood church she has attended for 87 years.

“My faith is very important to me,” she said. “Being a Catholic has helped me, especially if I pray to the saints, especially Our Lady. We have a lot of devotion to Our Lady, the mother of God.”

Martinez, 94, joined Little Flower Church, the oldest Hispanic parish in Oklahoma City, in 1926.

Services began in the original chapel in 1922. Five years later, the larger, current Little Flower sanctuary opened at 1125 S Walker Ave.

By the numbers

Between 2000 and 2010, Oklahoma
City's Hispanic population increased
about 100 percent, to just more than
100,000. That makes Hispanics about
17.2 percent of the city's population.

Who are they?

The census defines Hispanic or Latino
as a person of Cuban, Mexican,
Puerto Rican, South or
Central American
, or other
Hispanic culture or origin
regardless of race.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

For Martinez and more than 4,000 other worshippers, the church plays a central role in daily life.

Ask members of the Latino community in the area about the church, and they'll call it a touchstone of culture and community for Oklahoma City's booming Hispanic population

Mention Martinez and you will hear how she's the epitome of tradition and continuity in the church.

Jesus Lugo, 21, has grown up in the church and known Martinez all his life.

“In the Latino culture, we're bigger groups that are more close-knit than the general American ideal of what families are like,” said Lugo, the church's evening secretary. “Everybody knows everybody …. and if you're involved in the parish, you know Margarita.”


Church members look toward the altar in the Little Flower Church before Sunday Mass. It is the oldest Hispanic parish in Oklahoma City. Photo by K.T. KING, The Oklahoman

The Rev. Raul Reyes said his parishioners integrate Hispanic traditions into their new lives in Oklahoma City.

Most in his congregation speak Spanish and listen to music in Spanish. He has never been at a church where so many youths offer their confessions in Spanish.

“They are very strong in their culture,” Reyes said. “Latinos have a very strong sense of family, and their faith is something else.”

Many in the church view Martinez as their own grandmother. If they see her walking home after Mass, they greet her in Spanish and escort her across the street.

Martinez was born in Utah, the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her devout Catholic family moved to Oklahoma City when she was 2.

About the church

What: Masses are offered daily in
Spanish and English at Little Flower Catholic Church.

Where: 1125 S Walker Ave.

Learn more: For Mass times, call 235-2037.

She remembers when there were not so many Latinos in the city, when Mass was still in Latin and when Little Flower had only one sanctuary.

Now, the number of Spanish services outnumbers the English. The spacious new building on the back of the church property accommodates a much larger — and still growing — congregation.

Young people wear jeans to Mass and are more comfortable speaking English.

But they hold on to their love of traditional foods and the language of their elders, Martinez said.


Children in Little Flower Church re-enact the Virgin Guadalupe's appearance to Mexican peasant Juan Diego in a performance in 1926. Photo provided by Margarita Martinez

During Sunday Mass, Martinez adjusts the black lace mantilla she has bobby pinned to her hair. It's a traditional headpiece worn almost exclusively by the older generation.

When it's time to kneel, her light and easy movements belie her years. She rests her knees on the narrow board and clasps her small hands on the pew.

In her years at Little Flower, she's seen church leaders come and go, more than she can count.

“How many priests?” she pauses, then smiles. “Too many.”

Come to her home on any afternoon, and the slight woman in a red apron rises from the chair where she prays the rosary and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary to answer the door. She always prays the litany after doing dishes.

From her home in Riverside, Martinez has seen buildings rise and fall, neighborhoods become unrecognizable.

“I've seen Oklahoma City change so much, some for the better and some for the worse,” she said.

She can't stop the incursions of time, so she lights a candle and prays:

“Senor, ten piedad de nosotros. Jesucristo, ten piedad de nosotros.” (Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.)

She has never married; knew she never would. For 50 years, she filled her days working as Little Flower's secretary.

Surrounded by a large extended family and vibrant parishioners, Martinez says she has lived a good and full life in Oklahoma City.

Her faith has been a constant.

“I believe what I believe. I believe in the saints and in God, that He will protect me,” she says.

“And He has.”


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