Parish History

Father Urban d’Hasque, a Belgian priest out of Chickasha, celebrated the first Catholic Mass in Duncan on December 12, 1902, in the home of John Weaver on Beech Ave. Subsequent masses were held monthly on a weekday. Regular Sunday services began on October 22, 1905, in John O’Neil’s home at 305 West Hickory, later known as the George Pace mansion, now owned and occupied by attorney and former Duncan Mayor Phillip H. Leonard and his wife, Nancy.

Father Urban, in his quest to serve the small towns south of Chickasha, first provided worship services at the turn of the century in Rush Springs in the private homes of Mr. And Mrs. Huntley and Mr. And Mrs. Hill. Soon masses were being celebrated in Marlow in the homes of T.T. Eason and T.L. Wade.

Mission work has always been associated with hardship for both priest and lay people. The horse and buggy trip over dirt roads, at times so muddy the horses’ footing was treacherous and uncertain, required approximately three hours from Chickasha to Rush Springs.

At that time, Chickasha, Rush Springs, Marlow, Duncan and Comanche were part of the Chickasaw Nation in Indian Territory. Oklahoma was not yet a state. The Chickasaw tribe was very generous about letting white settlers occupy their land.

In 1908 Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Wade donated half a city block of property in Duncan for the building of a Catholic Church. On Sept. 15, 1908, the contract was let for $1,756. This did not include the foundation, which was donated and constructed by Mr. Lucian Haas. On New Year’s Day, 1909, Father Urban celebrated the first Mass in the new church at the southeast corner of 8th and Hickory, with 20 Catholics present. In the same year, the parish house was built next door and Father Michael McManus became the first resident pastor of Duncan. The church was officially dedicated as Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church by Bishop Theophilus Meerschaert on April 20, 1909.

Father James Garvey (1918-1925) established the first parish school in Duncan in 1921. Father Garvey with four lay teachers as faculty held the first classes in the rectory while St. Joan of Arc School was being constructed on 8th Street. In the fall of 1922, the Sisters of Divine Providence came from Texas to staff this school and offered instruction through the second year in high school. A third high school year was added in 1923. In June of 1924 due to lack of students the Sisters left and classes stopped.

In 1924, the flagpole located between the church and school was vandalized and torn down. The suspected culprits were active members of the Ku Klux Klan.

An oil boom that had started in 1918 was over by 1922. The school building was used for parish activities until the mid-1930’s when it was rented to the Government for the W.P.A. program.

Father Arnold N. LaRoque (1927-1934) and Father Michael McNamee (1934-1938) served as pastors during the difficult years of the depression while diocesan authorities struggled with the decision of whether Duncan should remain a Parish or become a mission.

The association of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales with the Church in Duncan began in 1939 with the arrival of Father George Fangauer. He had been the confessor to Engelbert Dolfuss, Chancellor of Austria who was assassinated by the Nazis in 1934. Fangauer fled Austria because the Nazis wanted to kill him as well. After receiving threats in St. Louis, he came to Duncan where he remained until his death in 1959.

Father George Fangauer was joined by Father Ferdinand Strasser, another Austrian Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales. Traditionally, priests from this religious order are known by their given name instead by their sur name.

During World War II, many Catholic soldiers stationed at Fort Sill from all over America would come to Duncan for recreation and would attend mass here. The church was small and the aisles would be crowded with young men in uniform standing, unable to kneel because of limited space. Regularly Catholic families would invite the soldiers home for Sunday dinner and lifetime friendships were formed.

In 1945, Father Fangauer planned to build a new school since the repaired and renovated old school building was being used as the Parish Hall and Catechetical Center. With the help of the Extension Society, he also purchased an adjoining house to be used as a convent.

In the fall of 1946, two Benedictine Sisters came and opened the new building Sacred Heart School for 28 kindergartners and 20 first grade students. Since each succeeding year saw the addition of another grade, two more nuns and lay teachers joined the staff. In 1950 more classrooms, a cafeteria and auditorium were added.

During 1952, Father George and Father Ferdinand switched roles with Father Ferdinand becoming pastor and Father George serving as his weekend assistant. During the week Father George was professor of Moral Theology and Canon Law for the Benedictines in the Seminary in Shawnee.

On August 26, 1959, Father George died. In 1957, Father Joseph Nowak, an Oblate of St. Frances de Sales came from Vienna, Austria to assist Father Ferdinand. He returned to Austria in 1963.

Father George and Father Ferdinand are both buried in the Catholic section of the Duncan Cemetery. Father Paul G. Gillespie, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, who served the church form 1968 to 1991, has reserved his burial plot in the Duncan Cemetery near Fathers George and Ferdinand.

Mass was first held in the current church building on the northwest corner of 8th & Hickory on Easter Sunday, 1960. The influence of the Austrian Oblates is evident throughout the church.

The marble for the altar, pulpit and communion railings came from Italy. The large cross and statues of Mary and Jesus being hugged by Joseph are carved out of wood from the Alpine Mountains. Black marble from Belgium and carved in Italy forms the center of the main alter base. The carving depicts Abraham offering his son Isaac, at the request of God, and the angel sent by God to stop him.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross are cast bronze and were done by the artist Tony Schneider-Mangell, a professor in Salzburg, Austria. The art windows of stained glass were made in an Austrian monastery. Two of the stained-glass windows in the Chapel were transferred from the Old Church.

Descriptions of all the religious artwork and symbols in the church are available in the church office at 711 West Hickory.

The initial church structure, rectory, St. Joan of Arc School Building and convent no longer stand. However, the original churches in Duncan and in Marlow were designed and constructed in much the same manner. Both were wooden structures with wooden floors and were raised above ground level. Marlow donated its old church building to the City of Marlow in 1999 and it was moved to Redbud Park. A sense of worshiping in those first churches can be realized by visiting Redbud Chapel in Marlow’s Redbud Park.

In 1963, the parish was placed under the American Province of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. In August of 1964 the mission of Waurika (Saint Thomas Aquinas Church) joined the Duncan parish family.

In 1965 changes took place in all Catholic churches worldwide as a result of the Ecumenical Council of Vatican II held in Rome. Mass was said in English instead of Latin and the altar was turned so that the priest faced the people.

Additional historical benchmarks of note occurred in 1960 with the election of John F. Kennedy as the first Roman Catholic to serve as President of the United States of America and the election in 1978 of Pope John Paul, the first non-Italian pope in four hundred and fifty years.

During 1975 the Assumption Catholic Church Community began to welcome refugees from Laos and Vietnam. Their belief in God, devotion to Catholicism and sheer determination to reunite scattered family members prompted action by the entire church community to help them accomplish their goals. God, family and education being paramount, the Vietnamese who located in Duncan were industrious, hard-working, tireless, goal-oriented, brilliant and relentless in overcoming the language barrier and many other obstacles to obtain the best education possible for their children to excel and blend into our society. The Vietnamese presence added an international outlook in the community and their accomplishments are remarkable.

Our congregation increased in the 1970s with an influx of Mexicans into the U.S. They have become a vibrant part of our Church adding to the richness of our parish. A bi-lingual mass began in the early 1990’s and continues to this day. Their celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the highlights of each liturgical year. They also are an integral part of our music ministry.

In the late 1980s several members of our parish volunteered and helped illegal aliens apply for amnesty. They translated documents, prepared affidavits and helped people fill out forms. This service was extended to all immigrants not just parishioners. Hundred of people became citizens as a result of this work.

Each priest, with his own special talents and unique experiences, has served this community and enriched the lives of the parishioners and strengthened the church.

For those of the parish family, the road from the beginning to the present has been long and sometimes hard, spanning a full century, but we rejoice in the present and look forward to the new millennium.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church stepping stone embedded in the new Oklahoma dirt-red Main Street historical sidewalk contains the artwork XP (Chi Rho) Greek letters used in the abbreviation of the word “Christ” Jesus, the anointed son of God. The stone is located in the sidewalk on the north side of Main Street between ninth and tenth streets.