Saturday, January 21, 2017

DESTINATION: Konowa, Oklahoma

When traveling the back roads of Oklahoma, it is not unusual to see the landscape dotted with small country churches, but when you spot a Gothic Revival style Catholic Church, perched on top a hill and surrounded by cemeteries, it grabs your attention!


Outside of church built in 1914

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1914, is off Highway 39 near Konawa, Oklahoma. The church is in use today but if you're lucky enough to stop by on a sleepy Saturday, when nothing is going on, the friendly gate keeper may give you a history lesson of how this church was founded and the mission ruins that lie "below."


Inside of church, built 1914

In 1846, at the request of the Potawotami Tribe, the Benedictine Order erected a school and church for the Potawatomi children on 640 acres of the tribe's reservation.  After the turn of the century, the Mission had become a religious and cultural mecca for tribal members.  

Statue on grounds, near church

The Saint Mary's Academy was established in 1880 for the education of girls, along with a boarding school for boys, the Sacred Heart Institute. By 1884, there was a convent, a school for the girls, stables, employees' houses, blacksmith shop, tool house, carpenter shop, and a bakery-where the Sisters baked 500 French loaves each day. A model farm - with a great variety of orchards, gardens, vineyards, fields, herds of animals and every form of agriculture was developed. The farm had two main purposes: to supply food for the institution and to provide a model for the Indian boys to copy.


Sacred Heart Mission in its glory days

Girls outside the academy

On the night of January 15, 1901, a fire broke out in the dining room of the Indian Boys School and swept out of control. Before it was over the blaze had destroyed the monastery, boys' school, college, girls' school, convent, and the church. The entire mission was destroyed with the exception of a few small buildings. The bakery and the two-story log cabin are the only buildings that remain today. Temporary wooden buildings were set up to carry on the boys' school, while the Sisters of Mercy moved one-quarter of a mile southeast to create a new St. Mary's Academy. Mass was celebrated in a converted granary. The present church (mentioned above) was begun in 1905, but was not completed until 1914.

All that remains

On September 15, 1983, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed the entire 640-acre Sacred Heart Mission site on the National Register of Historic Places.


National Register of Historic Places Marker