STILLWATER, Okla. — Four-hundred and twenty thousand bricks, a 51-foot ceiling and a spire measuring 155 feet tall are just a few of the aesthetic features of St. Francis Xavier Church at the corner of McElroy and Country Club roads.
They’re also some of the more basic, intricate dealings included in the design of the church to form the shape of a crucifix in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s death, the Gothic style of the architecture and the various statues and artwork adorning the altar and tabernacle areas.
Regardless of the features in and around the $22 million project that took just 25 months to build, Fr. Brian O’Brien simply describes what it’s like to see the almost-finished project as “pretty wild.”
“The idea is, we built this place to last for a very long time – not just to maintain the Catholic presence in Stillwater, they’ve been here since 1895 – to maintain and grow,” O’Brien said. “There are a lot of people in the area who grew up Catholic who now go to a different church or don’t go to church at all, so the idea is we have this place.
“Perkins is a big chunk, and then name a town – Glencoe, Coyle … we have people from all the towns around Stillwater. And a lot of people will be passing through, whether they’re doing business at Oklahoma State or at a football game in the fall.”
The church’s dedication weekend was March 11, and O’Brien said about 1,100 people flocked to the new church for Mass. The nave, Latin for “ship,” is the main seating area and holds 676 people. A loft for the choir with additional seating adds 141 to the occupancy, and a parish hall east of the church conjoined by a hallway can bring another 300 people for Mass when the need is there.
Overall, the project began to form as an idea about seven years ago, with planning beginning five years ago, according to O’Brien. That’s resulted in the church, the parish hall with a full kitchen, a nursery, education wing, a recreational area for middle and high school youth as well as an outdoor area. But there’s still work being done in and outside the church – acoustics are being fine-tuned, small paint jobs and other handiwork touch-ups can be seen and heard throughout the halls. Eventually, a rectory for the residing priest will be built, and drainage is being completed before landscaping around the buildings are done.
Then, of course, there’s the stained-glass windows.
“That’s probably a few years away,” O’Brien said. “We’ll probably have one, then six months later get another one. The idea that this place is going to last a couple hundred years, that’s the goal.
“(The education wing) Doubles as Sunday morning religious education and classrooms for preschool. We’ll open in August, ages 1-4, with a pre-K. We’ll kinda see where that goes if that goes really well, I’d love for us to have a Catholic school.”
O’Brien’s background as a priest within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa spans 11 years in May. That includes more than a year at Christ the King in Tulsa, and almost a full 10 as the president of Bishop Kelley High School in Tulsa.
“The preschool will get us going, and we’ll see if there’s a will,” O’Brien said. “Generally speaking, when you say to people, ‘Do you want to have a Catholic school,’ everyone is like ‘Yeah!’ Then you say ‘Well, it’s going to cost this much money.’”
The recreational area is geared toward Stillwater youth who will be going through programs at the church, and a basketball court gym is also part of the complex. There’s a sand volleyball court set up on the east side of the property, with plans for a pavilion to grill and place a firepit in the works. O’Brien said the plan is to give Stillwater’s Catholic youth a designated place reserved for them, instead of mixing in with Catholics attending Oklahoma State and being a part of those youth programs.
“For a long time, both have been doing the same thing. So the idea is now that St. John (Catholic Student Center) will be exclusive college campus ministry,” O’Brien said. “If you’re not, you come here. There’s a little bit of crossover, everyone knows each other, so some will pop over there, some over here, but generally speaking.
“We’ll have a lot of programs, we have a lot of stuff happening, for people of all ages. No matter where they happen to be in their faith, we want to be able to meet them where they are and draw them in. Already in these first couple of weeks, we’ve had some of that.”