A quiet, little town lies in central Oklahoma amidst fields of grain and grazing cattle. This town, fifty miles East of Oklahoma City, is Prague, Oklahoma, home of about 2500 hard working, good people. First settled by Czech and German immigrants, it was named Prague, in fond remembrance of the Czech's precious homeland.
Prague is the home of St. Wenceslaus Parish and the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague.
1891-1903 - The seeds of St. Wenceslaus date back to about 1881 when Rev. Francis Shulak, S.J. held services in the homes of the early settlers. However, in the late 1890's, Mr. Vincent Martinek donated four acres of land for the Catholic Church and Cemetery. This site is still home to our cemetery today. In 1899, the first Catholic Church was built on that property. At that time, the Catholic families consisted of about 15, and the story is told that the first church was built for a total of $125.
1903-1906 - New Catholic settlers continued to arrive and the parish felt the need of a new church. At that time, our existing location was purchased in the town of Prague. The second church was built around 1903. The Rev. Vincent Bednarek, of Yukon, was the priest in charge of Prague at the time the second church was built. The succession of the pastors before him is uncertain, though Father E.V. Reynolds, one of the first priests ordained by Bishop Meerschaert (about 1892) certainly attended while the church was still located at the cemetery. Father Bednarek died before the building of the church was completed. Father Joseph Sinkmayer was pastor of Prague for one year.
1906-1910 - Father Joseph Luzor was pastor from 1906 to 1910.
1910-1918 - From 1910 to 1918, Father A. J. Suwalski was the pastor of Prague. Father Suwalski started the sacramental records for the parish. The first handwritten entry reads: "20 February, 1910. Buried in the Cemetery of S. Vaclav in Prague, Okla. Adrienna DeRevierre". On April 10, 1910 Fr. Suwalski married Francis Swoboda and Francisca Sternat. On May 18, 1913, he gave first Holy Communion to 15 children.
1918-1926 - Father J. B. Dudek, later Monsignor Dudek and Chancellor of the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, was pastor of Prague. During his pastorate, the church was destroyed by a cyclone. Father Dudek held services in the auditorium of the public school after the storm, but during that same summer, the cornerstone for a new brick church was laid by Father Blaise Haritchabaler, O.S.B., in June, 1919. This third church was completed in 1919, at a cost of $6000. The church was dedicated by Bishop Merschaert in May, 1921. Also on May 26, 1921, Bishop Meerschaert confirmed fifty-one candidates.
1926-1928 - Father H. B. Mandelartz succeeded Father Dudek in 1926, and it was during his pastorate that plans were made for the rectory that has been recently vacated. The rectory was completed and the growth of the Parish of Prague was noticeable. Father Mandelartz was pastor of Prague until 1928. On January 29, 1928, Confirmation was celebrated by Bishop Francis Kelley; seventeen were confirmed from Prague, six from Meeker, eleven from Okemah and four from Sparks.
1928-1929 - Succeeding Father Mandelartz were the Benedictine Priests from St. Gregory's Abbey: Rev. Charles Espelette, O.S.B.
1929-1930 - Rev. Kilian Heid, O.S.B.
1930-1934 - Rev. Martin Mulcahy, O.S.B.
1934-1936 - Rev. Gratian Ardans, O.S.B.
1936-1939 - Rev. Louis Sittere, O.S.B. For a short time in 1939, Father Blase Schumacher, O.S.B., also was pastor of Prague. Confirmation was again celebrated in Prague on May 27, 1934, with twenty being confirmed.
1939-1947 - Father Eric Beevers was appointed paster of Prague. During his pastorate, Father Beevers acomplished much work in developing the Parish. Confirmation was celebrated again on July 9, 1939 with seventy-one being confirmed.
1947-1952 - In April, 1947, Father George V. Johnson was appointed pastor of Prague, with a mission at Okemah. Due to the ground work laid by his immediate predecessor Father Beevers, the aspirations of the parishioners to erect a new church were at a high point. Father Johnson arrived full of enthusiasm and was very flattered to be chosen to build the new church. But his task became more difficult as the cost of materials had greatly increased since the plans were made and the source of income was low. The oil boom was over, and the Catholic population had dwindled with many of the younger members of the church migrating elsewhere in search of employment.
In the rectory, Father Johnson had a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague that had been given to him by nuns in California. One day, as he gazed at the statue, he recalled what the sisters had told him upon presenting it, "The more you honor Him, the more He will bless you". He decided to place the statue on a pedestal in the church for all to see and honor. At times, it seemed to Father Johnson that it was impossible to build the new church; yet the sisters had assured him nothing was impossible if one had devotion to the Divine Infant. One day, as he was pacing up and down the aisle worrying, praying and hoping, he turned to the beautiful little statue and said, "Why don't you do something?" This outburst was immediately regretted and forgotten by the priest.
Shortly afterwards, however, donations of money, material, labor and talent began to arrive. Father Johnson was so busy getting the new building started that he almost forgot the Little Infant. Soon, though, he realized that the seemingly impossible was happening and he decided that something should be done about it. He made a visit to Bishop Eugene J. McGuinness to report the progress of the new church and to ask a favor: the permission to have a smail shrine placed in the church for the Divine Infant. "A small shrine", said the Bishop, "Why not a big shrine, a National Shrine?" Thus, the idea was born and progressed. The Shrine was formally established in 1949.
In December of 1947, Robert West of Black & West Architects, was asked to draw blue prints and sketches for a new church. Beginning on April 10, 1948, Father Johnson and Mr. Frank Kubicek laid out the foundation for the new building. On Sunday morning, April 18, 1948, the pastor and parishioners assembled to bless the building site. Monday morning saw many of the parishioners assembled with picks and shovels to dig the foundation. Under the capable supervision of Mr Kubicek, the work proceeded day by day.
It was a grand occasion on May 23, 1948, when His Excellency, Bishop McGuinness came to lay the cornerstone. One evening, November 16, 1948, a shout came from the tower, "Father Johnson, you're wanted on the tower". Up he climbed. The bricklayer handed Father Johnson the trowel and a brick, saying, "You may have the privilege of laying the last brick".
On Sunday, January 30, 1949, the first Mass was offered in the new church. The Solemn Blessing by the Most Rev. Eugene J. McGuinness took place at 4:00 p.m., Tuesday, February 22, 1949.
In 1951, the parish again expanded by building a grade school, Holy Child School, which was staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Lisle, Illinois. The school was a blessing for the 35 pupils, but closed after a few years. Father Johnson served as pastor until 1952, accomplishing untold deeds in his five short years here.
1952-1961 - Rev. S. H. Kleman followed Father Johnson as pastor. Under his leadership, the entire indebtedness was cleared and the grounds were landscaped and beautified. Father Kleman added a monument to the Divine Infant. A globe made of regal red Oklahoma granite with an Italian white marble statue of the Infant enthroned above to depict the little King of the world. On the front of the globe is the outline of the Western Hemisphere and back is the outline of Europe. Only two towns appear: Prague, Oklahoma and Prague, Czech Republic. It was blessed and dedicated by the Bishop on September 25, 1955.
The confirmation class of February 26, 1956 consisted of 51 candidates. Confirmation was celebrated again on March 11, 1959 when ten were confirmed. Rev. Kleman served the parish until 1961.
1961-1966 - Rev. Harry S. Bartnik served from 1961 to 1966.
1966-1974 - Rev. Jerome G. Talloen served from 1966 to 1974, and was pastor here when the beautiful faceted glass windows were installed in the church, each telling a story of its own and adding much beauty to the church. Also, during his tenure, the beautiful chime system was added, which plays sacred hymns that can be heard two or three miles away. Father Talloen was the last diocesan priest. After his pastorship, the Benedictive Abbey of St. Gregory's behan furnishing priests.
1974-1976 - Rev. Mathias Faue, O.S.B. served from 1974 to 1976
1976-1979 - Rev. Stephen Kelley, O.S.B. served from 1976 to 1979. His brother donated many of the kitchen appliances that are still used in the new hall today.
1979-1983 - Rev. Louis VanderLey, O.S.B. served as pastor from 1979 to 1983. He emphasized the youth program and supported the youth leaders in building up the program.
1983-1987 - Rev. Francis Simon, O.S.B., was pastor from 1983 to 1987. He took a great interest in serving the elderly. The church was totally remodeled ($300,000) while Fr. Francis was pastor, and the Catholic Knights of Columbus donated a beautiful white marble altar for the sanctuary.
1987-1990 - Rev. Daniel M. Sullentrop, O.S.B., served as pastor from 1987 to 1990. During his tenure, the new parish hall was built and the Shrine Board originated.
1990-1994 - Rev Joachim Spexarth, O.S.B., served in Prague from 1990 to 1994. Rev. Spexarth started perpetual fund accounts to help fund mission work.
1994-2006 - Rev. Adrian Vorderlandwehr, O.S.B. served from 1994 to 2006 gaining up to 4,400 member in the Shrine Association.
2006-2007 - Rev. James Knight served as pastor from 2006 to 2007.
2007-2009 - Rev. Shane Tharp served as pastor from 2007 to 2009.
2009-2013 - Rev. Price Oswalt served as pastor from 2009 to 2013.
2013-present - Rev. Long Phan is currently serving as pastor. He has overseen many improvements at the Shrine including replacing the protective glass that protects and preserves our beautiful stained glass windows, new lighting inside and outside the church making it safe, efficient and inviting, and landscaping to keep our church beautiful and inviting to all of the pilgrims who visit our shrine. Currently there are over 8,000 members of the Shrine.