PRAGUE, OKLAHOMA — Of all the jobs Father Price Oswalt trained for in his religious studies, taking care of babies never really came up.
“I jokingly tell people that I’m the nation’s most important baby sitter,” he says with a smile.
Yet, as pastor at the St. Wenceslaus Parish in Prague, Oklahoma, he is now chief caretaker of the National Shrine of the Infant Jesus.
Father Oswalt continues, “So it’s about carrying on that tradition, that legacy, and telling that story and explaining it to people.”
The story goes that a thousand years ago a young monk in Spain first carved an image of the Infant Jesus after receiving a vision from Christ himself.
The carving eventually made it’s way to the city of Prague during the Middle Ages.
It was lost in war, found, repaired, and set back in place.
The image is credited among Catholics for thousands of miracles, from stopping the bubonic plague to providing the inspiration to build churches, which brings us to the town of Prague, Oklahoma in 1947.
“The pastor at the time was needing money to build a new church,” explains Oswalt.
Prague had suffered some bad luck with churches in the past.
The first ones were a little rickety.
Another blew down during a tornado in 1918.
So, in ’47, Father George Johnson prayed to a replica carving of the Infant Jesus asking for a new church.
Oswalt relates, “He stopped in front of the statue and said, ‘Ok Jesus. Do Something.’ Within months, he had enough money to build this church.”
Bishop Eugene McGuinness petitioned Rome when he heard about Father Johnson’s prayer request and answer.
The Pope issued a decree making the new Oklahoma church the National Shrine of the Infant.
“We’re the only national shrine in the United States dedicated to the infancy of Jesus,” says Oswalt.
So holy babysitter is a job Father Oswalt inherited and one he cherishes.
75,000 people visited last year thanks to signs on both Interstates 40 and 44 pointing the way.
He explains the appeal of the Infant Jesus as being a little more approachable than the Jesus on the cross.
“Everyone can relate to a 2-year-old toddler,” he says.
The current Infant Jesus shrine sits behind a glass panel thanks to series of earthquakes in the area, but this version remains an important symbol in both Prague’s.
A two-year old Jesus who still holds the world and its peace in his hands.
The National Shrine of the Infant holds two pilgrimages a year.
One is scheduled right before Christmas on December 22.
To learn more about the shrine go to http://www.shrineofinfantjesus.com