Our Lady of the Ozarks

Arkansas Historic Preservation Program - Monday, June 17, 2019


In 1954 approximately 3,000 people are reported to have made a pilgrimage to a remote shrine in the heart of the Boston Mountains. This shrine is located in Winslow at Our Lady of the Ozarks, a Catholic mission/shrine founded in 1944 on land donated by Miss Clara Muxen, a nun who relocated to the Ozarks with her family from Iowa. In May of 2019, 75 years after being founded, Our Lady of the Ozarks was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This listing will help to preserve this unique landmark nestled in the Ozarks for pilgrims, worshipers, and tourists into the future. 

“The shrine of Our Lady in the picturesque Boston Mountain range between Fort Smith and Fayetteville, has long been a place of pilgrimage for both Arkansans and out-of-state visitors,” The Guardian, 1963. 

Muxen’s gifts went beyond land. She provided ornamentation for the church which led to its designation as a shrine. What sets a shrine apart from a regular church, according to Catholic Church canon, is a shrine is a sacred place approved by a bishop and visited by pilgrims. There are several key sculptures on the property including Saint Therese The Little Flower, Christ Crucified, Christ Resurrected, and Saint Anthony de Padua. 

Muxen named the mission Our Lady of the Ozarks in honor of The Virgin of the Smile, a statue inspired by the story of Saint Therese, a 19th century youth from Lisieux, France, who was cured of illness by a vision of Mary who appeared to her and smiled. Saint Therese is the Patroness of Missions so it is fitting that her story be interwoven into that of this mission. The statue of The Virgin of the Smile was created by DePrato Studios in Chicago and can still be seen at the site today.
Before the construction of Our Lady of the Ozarks, Catholics in the Boston Mountain region of northwest Arkansas had little access to church services. After an effort by local women to organize a parish, the Diocese of Little Rock formed Our Lady of the Ozarks and parishioners established a small mission near Winslow. In 1944, the parish began building the current native stone church and established a Marian (Mother Mary) statue on the front lawn. Over a two-year period, the parish added more statues to the grounds and finished the original plans for the church. Bishop Alfred Morris officially dedicated the shrine in August of 1946.

Since its inception as the first Marian shrine in Arkansas, Our Lady of the Ozarks has remained a prominent shrine and has served as an annual destination for Catholic pilgrims. 

You can view video from the 1949 pilgrimage event at Our Lady of the Ozarks at: 

Sources: National Register Nomination Form authored by Ralph Wilcox and


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