In essence, the history of the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church is the history of Harrah, Oklahoma, for the church was founded by ten Polish families who came to this area just outside of the eastern boundary of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 to establish their homes and to farm.
They came by covered wagon from Marche, Arkansas, where many Polish immigrants had begun settling as early as 1877. They had been lured to Marche by word of low land prices, but the land proved sandy and rocky, and crops did poorly.
Ready to try their luck elsewhere, Oklahoma Territory beckoned, with news of unassigned lands available to be claimed. The land encompassing Harrah was the western edge of property owned by the Pottawatomie and Shawnee Indian tribes. In July 1890, the two tribes ceded this western real estate back to the government under the Dawes Act.
This cleared the way for the second Oklahoma Land Run, September 22, 1891, in territory just to the east of the Unassigned Lands that had been settled by the "89ers". The men came ahead of their families in 1891, and by speed of horse and fleetness of foot, the Polish people staked their claims along the North Canadian River in what is now part of Oklahoma County. Their families followed, many coming in 1892.
They first lived in dugouts, tilled the land, and some of the men worked on the emerging public roads to pay the government for filing fees and taxes owed on their new 160-acre farms.
United in their Polish heritage and Catholic faith, the newcomers began meeting in each other's homes to pray the Rosary and sing hymns. Eventually, a circuit-riding priest would come once, and sometimes twice a month to offer Mass.
In 1896, a new railroad was being planned for Oklahoma Territory that would follow the grade of the Canadian River at the point where Harrah is situated today. A railroad station was established and named Sweeney Switch after the railroad agent, E. W. Sweeney. A post office was eventually located there.
In 1897, one of the non-Polish members of the parish community, John Beal, donated the land to build a church. The members donated labor to build the church on the site of the present-day cemetery. The church burned March 13, 1923, when smoldering charcoal left unattended sparked the fire that left some 200 parishioners without a church building.
A temporary church was immediately constructed and was later used as a school building. Plans for the present-day church were soon underway and it was completed in time for the first Mass to be celebrated on December 24, 1925.
The church operated a school from the late '30s to the mid '60s. It was staffed by the Carmelite sisters of Villa Teresa in Oklahoma City. The school was originally housed in the building that had been built to temporarily serve as the parish church after the destruction of the original church. A wood frame building, constructed in 1938 for a church house was also used.
The school prospered along with the town and on July 5, 1956, ground was broken for the present-day parish hall and classrooms.
Although the school was closed, a vibrant Confraternity of Christian Doctrine program has grown steadily with the parish. In March 1983, under the direction of Father Gerard Nathe, O.S.B., an educational building was constructed debt-free.
Under the direction of Father James Murphy, O.S.B., the church continued to grow. In September 2000, Father Alan Loth became pastor. Today, a number of parish organizations are active in projects that serve both the parish and the community.