An unexpected treasure rests in an unpretentious building that blends seamlessly into the Oklahoma landscape. The sandy-toned building is easy to miss on Prague’s Jim Thorpe Boulevard a few miles north of Interstate 40.
This national shrine is part of St. Wenceslaus Church, a parish formed in the early 1900s to serve the area’s Slovak community. The shrine was approved and dedicated in 1949.
Devotion to the Infant of Prague dates back to medieval Spain. A statue of the Divine Infant is said to have been crafted by a Basilian monk and given to St. Teresa of Avila; as a consequence, devotion to the Infant became part of Carmelite spirituality. The statue found its way to a Spanish royal family, and when a daughter married a Czech nobleman, the statue traveled to Prague with her.
Spanish explorers and settlers brought the devotion to the New World.
Hispanic and Filipino Catholics have a particularly strong devotion to the Infant. St. Wenceslaus fills every weekend with people devoted to the Infant Jesus. "There is no other place [in the United States] to honor ‘el Divino Niño’ but here," says Father Price Oswalt, the shrine’s rector.
Visiting the shrine in the afternoon treats visitors to the sun’s rays, which flow through the jewel tones of the sea-glass windows. Blues, greens and purples provide the backdrop for the images of the Infant of Prague.
With the closing of the doors, the ensuing silence at the shrine confirms that you have entered a sacred space.
The symbol that graces the front doors of the church and is repeated in the altar-rail gates is the same design gracing the spires of Our Lady of Victory Church in Prague, according to Father Oswalt. The altar rail came from a Wisconsin church.
Recently renovated through generous contributions, the shrine and church house relics of St. Wenceslaus, the cross and Jesus’ manger. Glass-doored cabinets house the many gowns donated to adorn the statue of the Infant of Prague. The gowns range from the elegantly simple to the very ornate; they have been donated by people from across the United States and other countries. The Divine Infant is clothed according to the liturgical season and wears a new crown. Recent earthquakes in the area damaged the previous crown.
Another renovation project and work of art that might go unnoticed is the 1880 baptistry; it is made of 5,000 pounds of Carrera marble from the area of Tuscany, Italy. The baptistry was acquired from Finders Keepers, an organization that helps find new homes for religious objects and furnishings when churches, schools and other religious institutions close.
The renovations to the church and shrine revealed interesting bits of the building’s history. Work on one of the walls revealed a niche that had been covered up by previous work on the building. In the niche, workers discovered an old plaster plaque denoting the first few notes of the hymn Good King Wenceslaus. The plaque has been refinished and now hangs on the church’s back wall.
After coming to a final decision on the paint color — a pale yellow — for the church’s walls, a false wall was removed to reveal the identical shade of pale yellow on the original wall that was chosen for the renovation. The new paint, as with the old, brings out the rich colors of the windows and brightens up the sanctuary.
There are multiple opportunities for prayer and contemplation. As you approach the altar of the church, there is a room to the left dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Passing to the right of the altar, there is a Sacred Heart statue carved by a European monk who lost both of his hands during World War II. He managed to carve the statue with one artificial hand and a mallet strapped to his elbow.
Outside, the St. Francis garden features a unique fountain and a statue of St. Francis. In another area, an outdoor Stations of the Cross provides another quiet place to meditate on Christ’s suffering.
The Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden will soon be the site of another fountain and area of prayer. Other outdoor statuaries grace the grounds of the church.
A Children’s Garden is in the fundraising stage. Plans are for a children’s playground to be built around the Chaplet of the Infant Jesus, whose 12 beads signify the 12 stages of Jesus’ infancy and childhood.
Pilgrimages are scheduled throughout the year, but the feast of the Divine Infant Jesus of Prague is commonly celebrated in January or May.
In this Year of Faith, what better devotion to begin anew or renew than devotion to the Divine Infant, who brings the faithful together across time and geography, language and culture?
As the Infant Jesus told Father Cyril, a Carmelite monk instrumental in reviving devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague in the 1600s, "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you."
Laurie Ghigliotti writes from Atchison, Kansas.
Private Novena in Honor of the Infant Jesus of Prague
O Child Jesus, I have recourse to you through your holy Mother. I implore you to assist me in my necessity, for I firmly believe that your divine power can assist me. I confidently hope to obtain your holy grace. I love you with my whole heart and with my whole soul. I am heartily sorry for all my sins, and I entreat you, O good Jesus, to give me strength to amend my life, for I am firmly resolved never again to offend you and to suffer anything rather than to displease you. Henceforth, I wish to serve you faithfully. For love of you, O Divine Child, I will love my neighbor as myself. O Jesus, most powerful Child, I implore you to assist me in this necessity (here mention the grace you seek). Grant me the grace of possessing you, with Mary and Joseph, and of adoring you with your holy angels and saints. Amen.
The National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague
PO Box 488
304 Jim Thorpe Boulevard
Prague, OK 74864
The shrine is 7 miles north of I-40, at exit 200, or 18 miles south of I-44 at the Stroud exit.
Earn a Plenary Indulgence
Be a member of the Association of the Infant Jesus of Prague. Go to confession within seven days prior to or seven days after the feast day. Attend the church of this sodality (such as The National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague) if available; otherwise, any church or public chapel located in any part of the world on these feast days. There, pray for the conversion of sinners and the exaltation of holy Mother Church. Pray for the Holy Father — for his health, well-being and special intentions — by offering the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.
Planning Your Visit
Pilgrimages at the shrine are planned each month on the Sunday that falls immediately before the 15th of each month.
Group tours of the church and shrine are available; special arrangements for groups of 20 or more can be made as well.