Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Have You Heard About ‘Our Lady of the Rockies?’ 

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Jessica Kneipphttp://www.jessicakneipp.net
Jessica writes about films, and occasionally gets to direct them. Music, photography, art, poetry, reading and travel are pretty good too. She has a love of silent films, they are the closest she will ever get to "time travel."

In Butte, Montana, a 90-foot statue of the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of the Rockies, stands high on top of the Rocky Mountains, honoring women everywhere, regardless of religion or belief. But do you know the heartfelt story of how she came to exist in this place?

This towering icon stands on the rocky peaks, 8,500 feet above sea level. She is made out of steel and weighs over 80 tons. It is the 3rd tallest statue in the U.S. after “The Statue of Liberty” in New York and “Pegasus and Dragon” in Florida. 

virgin mary statue of rocky mountains taken from the base of statue looking up with blue sky background and some white clouds
Our Lady of the Rockies is 40 feet shorter than the famous 130-foot-high Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Image: Public Domain)

A touching story

In 1979, Butte resident Bob O’Bill was losing his wife to cancer. He prayed to God and asked that if God heard his prayer, he would create a 5-foot statue of Mother Mary in his yard to show his gratitude. Well, his wife made a full recovery. Bob changed his mind about creating a statue of Mary and placing her in his yard and instead decided he would create a statue of her on a grand scale. But how could he realize this project? 

Butte is known as “the most Irish town in America.” Bob worked as an electrician in one of the mines. The town used to be the world’s top copper producer, but after the mining industry’s collapse, was now at an all-time economic low. Mines had shut down, unemployment was high, and spirits were even lower. Regardless, the people came together and made it happen. The construction of this statue was nothing short of a miracle in itself! 

construction of lady of the rockies statue of virgin mary helicopter putting head on body
O’Bill’s original vision for the statue was a 5-foot statue in his yard; instead, he realized a 90-foot version atop the Rockies. (Image: Public Domain)

Construction of the statue, created from the kind hearts of the community 

Construction began in December 1979 and took six years of hard work and determination to complete. Bob had many mining buddies, one of them being welder Leroy Lee. He had no prior experience and never graduated from school. Nevertheless, he designed, sculpted, and welded the statue’s three pieces together — which was no small accomplishment. Notably, the statue’s internal structure is an upside-down mine shaft. Since miners built the statue, they relied on their resources.

Throughout many summer evenings, volunteers helped blast a road to the top of the Rockies where the statue was to stand. And many locals worked to raise funds through different projects. Kind people contributed to almost every part of the project from start to finish. Everything, including the land where the statue stands, was donated. Included were the labor, materials, and heavy machinery. Even though the townspeople were losing their jobs daily, people gladly gave their time to push the project forward. 

Four-hundred tons of cement form the base of the statue. At last, in December 1985, the final part of the construction was at hand — the placement of head and shoulders on top of the base. A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, which required a national guard unit to operate, was used — and this was all donated. Thousands of people witnessed the final part of the construction, and it was a sight to behold.

black and white photo from 1985 of helicopter carrying large virgin mary head in the air
A Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter took the head, the final piece of the statue of Our Lady of the Rockies, up to Saddle Rock as thousands watched on. (Image: Public Domain)

If you travel to go see her…

In summer, they run bus tours, a 2.5-hour return journey up the mountain to visit and go inside the statue. A beautiful memorial honoring all women and mothers stands there, and you can dedicate an inscribed tile to the Holy Mother; there is an outlook deck and a small chapel as well.

So if you travel to Butte, look to the east of the mountains at night, and up high, you will see her overlooking the town.

One of the most spectacular times to view the statue from Butte is at night. High up to the east of the mountains, you will see the glowing figure of “Our Lady of the Rockies” lit up.

Above the determined people from Butte’s township, she stands with open arms, proving people can achieve things that seem impossible when they come together, even in hard times.

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