EDMOND — Kathleen O’Meara Marks gets misty-eyed when she thinks of her 125-year connection to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
Marks, 73, said her family has attended the prominent church since it was founded in 1889 — with one of her maternal great-grandfathers traveling by train to Oklahoma Territory and the other one coming by covered wagon, both joining the Catholic parish.
Six generations of Marks’ family, including she and her daughter and grandchildren, have been linked to the historic church.
“Knowing that my family was here all those years ago just makes me feel good,” Marks said Thursday.
The vibrant history of Marks’ family, so intertwined with that of St. John’s, rose to the surface recently as the church prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
The anniversary will be celebrated during a parishwide picnic Saturday at the church, and at an Anniversary Mass and Dinner on Tuesday, said Virginia Peters, a longtime parish member, church historian and anniversary committee chairman.
Peters said the church had fairly humble beginnings, starting with the families of four Catholic men who helped build the congregation’s first house of worship.
She and the Rev. Ray Ackerman, the church’s pastor, said the parish has flourished over the past 125 years to become the largest Catholic church in the state, with 3,180 families representing more than 10,000 parishioners.
Leading by faith
Peters said the parish’s first church building, on the southwest corner of First and Boulevard, had the distinction of being the first house of worship built in Oklahoma Territory. She said the small, one-room frame building with a bell tower and three windows on each side seated 150 people and cost $500 to build.
Peters, 79, said the building project was under the direction of the Rev. Nicholas F. Scallan, a priest who had previously served at a mission near Tucson, Ariz. The first Mass was held in the church on June 24, 1889, just 63 days after the Land Run.
Peters said the small church building quickly became the focal point of an ecumenical partnership.
She said the Catholic congregation met one Sunday a month in the building because its priest traveled to other parts of the territory. She said the congregation allowed the local Methodists, Presbyterian and Christian Church congregations to each meet in the building on the other three Sundays.
Peters wrote an extensive history of the church for its centennial. She wrote that although anti-Catholic bigotry reached its highest level in Oklahoma after World War I, such religious prejudice did not appear prevalent in Edmond.
“Perhaps this was due to the close association of Catholics and non-Catholics dating back to the shared use of the first Catholic church and the cooperation of both groups in getting it built,” she said.
Growing with Edmond
Peters said a second church was built in 1900 at the site of the first church. In the 1950s, after the integration of the Oklahoma City School District led to “white flight,” the city of Edmond became a booming bedroom community,” she said.
St. John’s parish leaders began looking at ways to accommodate church growth.
Peters said the parish purchased its current church property at the corner of Ninth Street and Boulevard in 1953. A new brick church building was built on the site in 1955.
Peters said it’s important to note that some of the church’s leaders were initially hesitant to buy the property because they felt the piece of land was too large and too far out of town.
“But they had the vision to buy it anyway,” Peters said, chuckling.
Diverse and accepting
Ackerman, who has been the church’s pastor for two years, said the church’s growth and vibrancy can be attributed to the tenacity of the people who founded the parish and the diverse ways the church continually reaches out to people of different backgrounds and interests.
“We have 100 ministries in the parish. We want to get more people involved in the joy of the church,” he said.
Meanwhile, Marks said after the death of her husband, Fred, two years ago, she moved from northwest Oklahoma City to Edmond to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law, Whitney and Jerrod Price. Once in Edmond, she said she knew she wanted to worship at the church where her mother, Margaret Kanaly O’Meara Boucher, had worshiped for much of her life. Margaret’s parents, Edwin Kanaly and Rose Hogan, both grew up at the church, and the couple were married there.
“When I walked in the door at St. John, I just felt good. It just has a warmth about it, and it’s a very diverse and very accepting community,” Marks said.
She said she’s especially thrilled that her granddaughter Piper Price — representing the sixth generation of her family — is enrolled at St. John’s Child Development Center.
“I’m glad I came back to the place where the family began, where we have family roots.”
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