St.Teresa of Avila Church in HarrahHarrah, Oklahoma



The town of Harrah, Oklahoma is located in Oklahoma County in the central part of the state, only about fifteen miles east of Oklahoma City.  It was in1892 when the original homesteaders came to what would become Harrah, Oklahoma Territory.  The earliest settlers included many Polish family names:  Jezewski, Drezewiecki, Blochowiak, Makowske, Miller, Olenechezk, Wozniak, Nowakowski and  Lutomski.  Many came by wagon, other settlers came by train. Within a few years, families were pouring in from other Polish communities.  All lived in their covered wagons and dugouts until they could build their homes.  Many of the families were of the Catholic faith and worshiped together as a community.  Without a resident priest, the community was identified as a mission and was visited by a priest who came periodically from another town to say Mass for the people.  By 1897 parish member, John Beal, donated land, and many other parish members donated the labor to build a Catholic church on the land.  By 1907 the little church was moved to its present day site and enlarged.  The original church site became the cemetery.  A rectory also was built near the new church at the time to house St. Teresa’s first resident pastor, Father Lepich.  The Bishop, Right Reverend Theophile Meerschaert, dedicated the church as St. Teresa of Avila, naming it after his own mother.  With a resident priest, the parish was established and was no longer identified as a mission. 


In the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s people from Poland and from the Ukraine began to come to the United States and to Harrah.  Most of those attended what was known then as the Polish Church, since at St. Teresa's the Polish language was used in the church services.  The Ukrainians were very friendly with their Polish neighbors but still longed for their own church, and so they soon established St. Mary’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church in the nearby town of  Jones, Oklahoma.   

By 1909 St. Teresa’s had grown to be one of the largest parishes in Oklahoma.  Harrah was a bustling little town with the new church as its focal point. More than half of the businesses in Harrah were Polish. The priests were kept busy with marriages, baptisms, first communions and the development of community events that centered around the church.  It was around this time that the annual Fourth of July Picnic was inaugurated, and it became the big community event in Harrah for years, drawing people from neighboring towns.  St. Teresa’s Altar Society and the St. Joseph’s Organization were formed for the women and men of the parish. 

Tragedy struck at St. Teresa's on March 13, 1923 when charcoal was left burning in the stove after the funeral of Mrs. Christina Beal. It was the Beals who had donated the land for the church.  The untended charcoal sparked a fire inside the church and even though the community worked to save it, the church burned to the ground.  After that, church services were held in the open, with only a tent over the altar.  Soon after, the people again donated their money, time and skills to build a new temporary structure for the church.   It was during these troubled times when the Fritscher family lived in Harrah.  They had moved into the community in 1922 not long before the fire demolished their little church.  The two youngest Fritscher boys, Albert and Julius  made their First Communion at St. Teresa's in 1923 or 1924.  All of the Fritscher children except for the youngest, Frances, attended school at the local schoolhouse in Harrah.  The Fritschers moved on to Hereford, Texas just before the new St. Teresa's church building was begun. 

By January of 1925, plans were already underway for the building of a new church on the same site.  It was completed in time for the mass to be held December 24, 1925.  Many of the statues were donated to St. Teresa’s from churches in Oklahoma City that were remodeling.  The church was not dedicated until 1928 when the finishing touches had been completed.  St. Teresa's has been remodeled more recently in 1974 and 1975 when hand painting was added to the interior ceiling and archways.  An educational facility was added in 1983, but the main structure that stands today is the church that was built in 1925.   

St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church is the only Polish parish in Oklahoma.  This heritage continues to this day with a Mass celebrated in the Polish language once a month.  The parishioners of St. Teresa have a very rich and proud history, and there are a number of the original parish organizations and many extended families that are still active in the parish and the community. 





Source:  Information derived from the History of St. Teresa's provided to me by Jessi Haley.