OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla (KFOR) – A century ago, three friars of the Carmelite order were ousted from their country during the Mexican revolution.
The clergy escaped from Pancho Villa and headed to Oklahoma to serve.
“It was not popular to be Spanish or Catholic in Mexico during the revolution,” said Oklahoma City Archdiocese archivist, George Rigazzi. “So they came to America through San Antonio up to Oklahoma City.”
In 1914, “packing town” followed the Oklahoma River south of downtown.
Fueled by the stockyards, the meat-packing plants were a major employer of Latino labor.
The Santa Fe and Rock Island Railroads crossed near 10th and South Walker.
This area was the Hispanic heartbeat of Oklahoma City.
There was a need for Spanish speaking clergy,” Rigazzi said. “The Carmelites were here at the right time, and we needed them.”
Father Edward Solar had been exiled from Mexico, but he found fertile ground for a new parish in South Oklahoma City.
”We were the first ones, really to minister,” said Father Raul Reyes. “This has been the church for Hispanics from the very beginning.”
Little Flower Church was the seventh catholic parish established in Oklahoma City.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Therese is the official name of the parish.
Although, the church has always been called ‘Little Flower Church’ named after Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower of Jesus.
By 1926, the small chapel had become crowded with parishioners. They built the main sanctuary which still stands today.
“The interesting thing is the Father wanted it to be a lot more elaborate than it was. They had budgeted $500,000 which was a lot of money in 1926,” said Rigazzi. “Bishop Kelley was a little reticent. He said they couldn’t do anything too extravagant because the KKK had threatened to burn it to the ground.”
When the Spanish-speaking community surged in the 1970’s, Little Flower was already deeply rooted and perfectly positioned to minister to Spanish-speaking Catholics.
“It’s very different than every other (church) because it was built for this community,” said assistant executive director for the archdiocesan Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesi, Luis Soto. “It speaks the language, the cultural language of this community.”
Little Flower is the oldest Hispanic parish in Oklahoma. It’s one of 44 Oklahoma churches with a mass in Spanish.
“Every place I go you see many more Hispanics attending mass,” Soto said. “Churches that weren’t traditionally serving Hispanics are now serving Hispanics.”
Little Flower parishioners are now holding tight to their faith and their heritage, drawn to this house of worship to celebrate both.
“I mean, it’s all the trials and tribulations and sorrows,” said Father Reyes. “They turn to God, and here they can come again and be renewed.”