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Our Lady’s Miracle on the Mountain

Our Lady’s Miracle on the Mountain

Who is this that approaches like the dawn, as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun…

Song of Solomon, 6:10

The third tallest statue in the United States bears the image of the Blessed Mother and stands astride the jagged Rocky Mountain Continental Divide 3,000 feet above the city where I grew up. The massive 90-foot tall, sixty-ton steel statue is called Our Lady of the Rockies, overlooking Butte, Montana.

For being one of the world’s great engineering marvels, she is a gem that is slowly being discovered. Since she was built in 1985, people from all over the world have been traveling to this remote outpost to see her in ever greater numbers. So how did this statue come to be?

As we shall see, Our Lady of the Rockies is a manifestation of Butte’s close-knit community. The magnificent figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary is anchored on the mountaintop just east of the city. She is visible to all for miles around; an icon for Butte’s residents and countless travelers along Interstate 90. This Madonna, and the people who put her there, tell an incredible story of resilience, innovation, and trust in God.

Butte began as a humble silver mining camp until the discovery of rich, subterranean copper veins in 1880 coincided with the advent of electrification and the nation’s veracious appetite for telephone wire and conductors. Overnight, miners and laborers flocked to Butte from all over the globe, including England, Italy, Slovakia, China, and especially Catholic Ireland. Butte’s economy skyrocketed.

As the networks of miles-long tunnels grew beneath ground, the city above flourished, consisting of diverse ethnic neighborhoods, beautiful architecture, and a sophisticated arts scene. What was once a collection of tents around a muddy creek ballooned to a population of 90,000, at one point becoming the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. It was easily the world’s top copper producer, and it was said that there more Irishman in Butte than in Ireland.

Butte1

Butte, Montana; circa 1900.

Butte’s riches were also spiritual. Since a large majority of the miners were from Italy, Germany, and Ireland, Catholicism also thrived. It took faith and determination to pile into a crowded mine-cage and plummet thousands of feet to the dim, hot, dusty tunnels from which were formed with drill bit, blasting cap, and miner grit to extract the ore that illuminated cities and powered progress.

Former resident John W. Blewett described the Catholic atmosphere in his piece Riches Above, Riches Below:

“One of the Masses I loved to serve as a boy was the 5:15 a.m. mass in our parish. The church was filled with miners carrying their breakfast/lunchpails. In some instances their wives and children would be with them at that early hour. For everyone there, the Holy Eucharist was the first and most important nourishment taken that day. When the Mass was ended, and we had finished begging St. Michael for God’s protection, the miners headed for what was called “The Richest Hill on Earth” . . . . Knowing that one of them might not come out of the mine alive, it was comforting to know that they had already offered the prayer, works, joys, and sufferings of the day to Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Men of true grit — Butte’s copper miners.

 Complete with baptismal picnics, Eucharistic processions, St. Patrick’s Day revelry, and Irish wakes, Catholicism was woven into everyday life in Butte. The city once boasted ten Catholic churches, seven parishes, nine Catholic schools, and was known across the state as a lush fountain for religious vocations.

Sadly the source of Butte’s material prosperity ran dry. As the demand for copper lessened and the mining industry expanded internationally, the mines and Butte’s economy took a terrifying nose-dive. By 1975 nearly all the mines were closed, leaving the community reeling.

With the loss of thousands of mining jobs, the industry which had historically created millionaires and high-paying  labor positions mostly vanished. What was once America’s boomtown had now shrunk to a population below 40,000 souls. Locals feared Butte would become a ghost town.

A long-time electrician in one of Butte’s surface pits, Bob O’Bill, however, had a setback of another kind. In 1979 his wife was seriously ill with cancer and was fighting for her life. A devout Catholic, Bob promised God he would erect a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary if his wife recovered.

Miraculously, Mrs. O’Bill made a complete recovery.

Bob was at work in the pit when he told his mining buddies about his plans to make good on his promise and build a small statue to Mary. The miners–haul drivers, electricians, iron workers, and explosives experts–surprised Bob by saying, “That’s not good enough for your wife’s healing. This statue has to be the tallest in the country and visible for all to see.” Thus began the plan to put Mary on the mountain.

Many scoffed at the proposal. The task was extraordinarily daunting and ridiculously expensive. No one had money, and the town was on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet eventually the notion caught fire among the community, especially among the hardest hit: the miners, engineers, and metal workers. Not one of them were professional artists, promoters, organizers, or public figures. They were God-fearing lunchpail laborers, not unlike Jesus, the carpenter.

In 1980 a volunteer crew began bulldozing a five-mile road up the steep mountain ridges, sometimes advancing only twelve feet a day, often facing treacherous conditions, the elements, and mechanical failures of outdated equipment. After two long years, the extremely dangerous and rough path was completed, while work on the statue continued.

An amazing hero, Leroy Lee, a man with only a grade school education and no design experience, led a team of volunteer welders and steel workers—often working nights and weekends—to assemble Our Lady in a local heavy equipment yard. The initiative involved entire families; while the men bulldozed and welded, the wives and children threw fundraiser potluck dinners and raffles, keeping the project alive with vital funds.

Lee’s ingenious design required construction of three gigantic segments. Each 20-ton segment was airlifted by a heavy-lift National Guard helicopter, maneuvering past jagged peaks and swirling winds. At one point the helicopter was thrown by a gust over the side of the mountain to the horror of onlookers, workers, and news camera operators. Instead of dropping the load, the pilot fought to regain control against all odds. When the aircraft and segment reappeared over Saddleback Ridge that morning, people cried tears of joy.

OLR3

The final piece is dropped into place; December 17, 1985.

On December 17, 1985, when the final segment—the strong, reassuring head of our Lady—was lifted into place, the entire town was at a standstill, nervously watching. When they saw their completed project, the town erupted into cheers. Sirens, church bells, and horns could be heard echoing throughout the valley. Six years of hard work had brought a struggling community together. Their dream had become a towering reality, a gift for generations to come, Butte natives and travelers alike.

The fruits have been immeasurable. Though the mines never re-opened to their former capacity, Butte’s economy and spirits vastly improved during construction and the years immediately following: jobs increased, several business started and reopened, while the last brothel (one of the country’s few remaining) finally closed its doors.

Today, Our Lady of the Rockies stands a source of pride for Butte and a beacon for all who travel by on Interstate 90 and for all who see her. During the day she watches diligently over the valley, while at night she is illuminated in votive memory for the city’s deceased. She is a testament to the city’s spirit, a resilient, can-do attitude and unshakeable faith that through her Son all things are possible.

Watchful Mother

About The Author

Peter LaFave is a contributing editor to the Christian Review, a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and lives with his wife in Santa Paula, CA. He can be reached at pjlafave@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @peterlafave.

74 Comments

  1. It’s a Beaut ! 😉

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    • What a beautiful statue of our Lady. You are so blessed.

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    • What an inspirational tale – Ave Maria gratia plena – Ora pro nobis!!

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    • She belong here so much.We need her to be our advocate,and defend our freedom of RELIGION, specially in this time of attack on the catholic church.

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      • Our Blessed Mother is always saying “Yes” to God, and where she is her Son Jesus is. Only by her, we can have him. Amen!!!

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    • My husband and I were returning to Spokane Valley, WA from a mini-vacation when we spent the night in Butte. We asked those who lived there about the story of Our Lady of the Rockies. It is exactly as you told her story. The moment I saw her from below the mountain, I knew it was Our Blessed Mother, Mediatrix of all Graces, which my husband felt so blessed when we were privileged to see; we really desired to go up to see her, but was unable to so so. My husband ten years before converted to Catholism, I thank her so much because he died this January, 2015, and this was the last time we went on a trip. Our Lady was his and my miracle, as I had prayed for 24 years of our 33 year marriage to Her for his conversion. Thank you for telling Her miraculous story. God bless you.

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    • Wow! Praised be Jesus& Mary, now and forever, Amen Roger C. Thibault

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    • There is a beautiful statue of Our Lady on the grounds of Mount
      Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg. It can be seen from Route 15 in that
      area. Also, when the President goes to Camp David they fly over it.
      At night it is well lit. Makes a great land mark.

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    • Is this in Butte, Montana. It sounded to me when I first read about this story that it sounded more like a Zorba the Greek story and that everything would work out not upsetting the residents. This is more than I have imagined.

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  2. Simply, miraculous! Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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  3. I need to find out where in Butte Montana and Address we might visit the places, bring some people. We are Catholic.

    Thank you,

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    • What a beautiful tribute to our Blessed Lady and Mother of God. It gives me hope that we as a nation my return to again being ” One nation under God”

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    • No address. Our Lady of the Rockies sits atop the Continental Divide at Butte. Just be prepared to drive forever to get there. Being the biggest attraction in town I imagine you could ask at any gas station. You will probably see it from the Interstate when you drive by. Butte is only 34K people and like all upper-midwesterners–friendly and upbeat. Country-western atmosphere.

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    • A beautiful site to see from any angle! In our motor homing travels, we always looked for Mary, knowing we were close to home. We stopped in town at the Information Booth and took a tour bus ride to the top, traversing the Continental Divide at least twice. It was awe-inspiring!!! The base is a large room and thousands of rosaries from around the world hanging on the walls where visitors had hung them. Well worth the time and effort to get there!!

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    • Just google Our Lady of the Rockies. When you visit (May to October) be sure to take the official tour. You will see a film on the making of the statue (outdated but worth seeing) and in the giftshop there is a book by Leroy Lee that you must buy. I have been fortunate to have visited many shrines, but Our Lady of the Rockies and Our Lady of Guadalupe and Medjugorje top the list.

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  4. How long will it take the ACLU to get the statue blown up?

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    • I know, I worry about that every time I see Her.

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    • It’s not on public land. If it were, it would be unconstitutional. It isn’t, so no one has sought to have it removed,

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    • Our Blessed Lady will never allow it!!

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    • That’s why this entire project is a miracle. Note how/who placed the statue on the mountain.

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  5. For 3 years, we used to pass the top section of the statue of Our Lady when driving from Malmstrom AFB down to Idaho. I thought, “What in the world are they gonna do with such a huge piece of religious art in the middle of nowhere ?!?!” I’m glad to see and know the rest of the story! We live in California now, but I hope to return someday to see her on that mountain looking down over her children!

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    • What a beautiful tribute to. Our. Lady. Thank you mountains.

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  6. So awesome! Mary, queen of heaven and earth, our most merciful mother, intercede for us in our every need and watch over us always!

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  7. The statue of mother Mary is quite a beautiful site, standing large, tall, yet graciously overlooking the kingdom, God’s. Very inspiring to see a classically draped, female, a human mother figure, still reaching out to her Son’s redeeming calling, as others may begin to find Him, through her love of family, and friends, and specifically her Own suffering, that we may come to understand her Son’s suffering and still saving grace.

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  8. I am an ordained Protestant minister. This project is an amazing, heartwarming story of faith in action. I have not seen the statue yet but feel I will be blessed when I do.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind comment, Deal Hudson, publisher and editor.

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  9. My grandfather is Bob O’Bill, I’ve never been more proud of anyone in my life. He is an amazing man whom I love dearly! He is in poor health right now so please pray for him.

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    • Shawna-
      He will be in our prayers.
      God bless,
      Peter

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    • I will pray for your dear grand-father and thank Mother Mary for what he did for her and her son Jesus.
      from Brussels (Belgium)

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    • Will keep your whole family in my prayers. Bless you Bill O’Bill

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  10. The details of this 6 year endeavor is exciting and available from the OL of the Rockies gift shop. I recommend the hour long DVD. Another must is Leroy Lee’s speech on CD. These present the story of the ordinary men who did an extraordinary feat fueled by faith and trust. Don’t miss the accounts by the men who were there through the thick and thin… I never tire watching and listening to this ‘miracle’ by these guys ‘next door’… God truly exalts the humble!

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    • Reverend Stanley,

      Thanks so much for the history and info on more exciting information. We will surely buy and listen as we thirst for more about this amazing feat.

      Best,
      Deal at http://www.TheChristianReview.com

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    • Thank you, Fr. Smolenski. I am from Connecticut and remember attending a Rosary Rally at our cathedral in Hartford that you presided at. I just happened on this story this morning and will spread the word among my friends here in the Hartford area. What a beautiful story and tribute to Our Lady. Oh, how much we need our dear Mother’s prayers right now in this world that has gone mad. Blessings, Kathleen

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      • This miracle takes my breath away.God Bless you Mother Mary.

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  11. Thanks for the inspiring story, where are Lady is welcome there is always Peace and Prosperity!

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  12. Thank you for the inspiring story and I look forward to seeing Our Lady when we visit Butte this summer! May God, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, grant much peace and comfort to Bob O’Bill and his family!

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  13. Thank you for bringing to light one of the most inspiring works of art in the United States. The initial act of faith which inspired the Lady of the Rockies, and then the small miracles which had to happen is a truly inspiring story. The author of “Miracle On The East Ridge” has like many other individuals passed on to be with the Lord, but the story behind the Miracle can be read in the book “Miracle On The East Ridge”. Please come visit Butte Montana and learn about the unique city on a hill – The Richest Hill on Earth – Butte Montana. Visit Buttebooks.com to also learn about Butte’s Catholic Family a book sharing our unique heritage.

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    • Bill-
      Thank you for your kind words. I encourage others who wish to know more about this story and Butte’s Catholic history to visit the websites Bill mentioned.
      Tap ‘er light-

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  14. This is the view from my parents window. Butte Proud!

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  15. I was raised in Butte Montana i loved living there only if we could turn back time………..

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  16. I was raised in Butte in the 50’s & 60’s. My mother was born in Butte & lived there her entire life. My dad moved there at age 15. By the time to Lady was built & hoisted atop the Continental Divide, I was living in Portland, OR. I remember the two days of the erection. My mother was on the phone during or after each piece. She was in tears after the last piece was done. I have been back to Butte many times since. I have taken the 4 wheel-drive bus up to the Lady 3 times (twice with my wife & last year after she has passed), My mother, my wife, my sister, my sister-in-law my grandmothers are all list in the memorial there. My father has a tree planted for him. It truly is a tribute to Butte & to Our Lady of the Rockies.

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  17. Thank you for sharing this beautiful moment

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    • A Beautiful Blessing!!! Such Awesomeness!!!

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  18. This is a wonderful story of how a promise is kept and shared by all. God grant to all the souls who helped, eternal rest. Our Lady will always look after this place for they have honoured her, even through tough times. A lovely story coming from USA after all the horrible news of killings. God bless America. I live in Sri Lanka and here the devotion to our Blessed Mother is challenged by many ” born again’ denominations, even drawing catholics away from the church, and getting them to destroy all statues and filling their brains with heresies.

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    • “UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH”I CONSIDER THE ROCK OF BUTTE MONTANA OUR BLESSED MOTHER A BIG PART OF THE CHURCH OF HER SON JESUS.THE CHURCH WILL PREVAIL AND THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL. BE NOT AFRAID “I GO BEFORE YOU ALWAYS”

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  19. What a story about faith and perseverance. I believe I was at Ft. Leonard Wood with Tom Morrison from Butte back in 1969, before going to Viet Nam. His family must have been part of the Irish immigration. God bless everyone in Butte.

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  20. This is a grand story! There is also another wonderful huge statue of Our Lady of Peace along I-80 at the Nebraska/Wyoming border.

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  21. My daughter-in-law comes from Ananconda, MT so I had the privilege of twice meeting up with Leroy who took me up to see OurLady. The book by Leroy describing the building and installation of the statue is fascinating; also how the whole town stopped to watch the final section being completed.
    Whenever I first catch a glimpse of Mary as I visit Butte is like a homcoming – she is my Mother and friend.
    Thank you for bringing this story to our attention. I am from Australia

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  22. Beautiful! Looking at the pictures, I can’t help but be reminded of the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here’s praying that this statue of Mary, Our Lady of the Rockies, becomes such an icon.

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  23. What a amazing statue of Mother Mary, Wonderful story Mother Mary bless all the people of Butte who toiled night & day to bring to light your mighty presence to the world. Mother Mary for us who have resource to you. Jesus , Mary , St Joseph we love you.

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  24. I saw the image of Our Lady years ago. And while we can’t see Our Lady in the heavens, we are reminded of God’s love for mankind, when we see Our Lady of the Rockies. Her simple yes, tibthe Angel Gabriel, changed the course of humanity, forever.

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  25. I love this story! Makes me proud to be an American.

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  26. We, now more than ever need the protection of our Blessed Mother? God’s greatest blessings l believe will be given to those who honor His mother. I hope l can see her someday.

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  27. I pray I can visit this marvelous statue some day. I’m from Michigan and many times have visited the largest Crucifix in the world at Indian River, MI. It too is worth seeing, very inspiring.

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  28. It would be great a honor to build a statue For Jesus and Joseph along
    side Mary.

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  29. It’s always amazing when the Blessed Mother is brought up during a homily at Mass or during the prayers….you can literally feel the love of .catholics for their Mother – Mary, the great mother of God.

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  30. It’s so inspiring to read this awesome story about our Blessed Mother & the comments posted here. It hurts me so much when I hear negative comments by some sects & other”born again” denominations about our Blessed Mother & their ridicule for Catholic images. I am a cancer survivor for 13 yrs. now & I have a strong faith that I was healed through the intercession of our Blessed Mother. I am from the Philippines. God bless everyone!

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  31. Hope, in the coming disastrous years, it will serve as a refuge holy ground for the survivors of Butte as well as other parts of America, because no one asks anything from our Blessed Mother and turned down as stated by St. Augustine long time ago.

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    • Beautiful! I wish I could see and reach that place in the near
      future. O Mary,
      Our Lady, our Queen, our Mother
      in the name of Jesus, we implore Thee
      to take our cause into Thy hands and grant it good
      success. Amen

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  32. In July 2011, we travelled coast to coast via I90 and saw this magnificent statue. I did not know the story behind it though. Thank you! The story has moved me to tears. Ave Maria! Deo Gratias!

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  33. Please read the verse Luke 1,46:55

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    • Blessed Mother has proclaimed Her faith in Verse Luke 1,46:55.
      Let they be negative comments from denominations like ”born again”.
      Do not be afraid. Our Blessed Mother will guide us, to those who seek refuge in Her.

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      • SO very glad you published this article on a much-read site. Our Lady of the Rockies is truly stunning. We pass through Butte twice every year and and I LOVE my first view of our Lady. She’s beautiful. What a tremendous story. May Butte be blessed.

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  34. I proudly wear the Miraculous Medal never taking it off and pray many times through out the day “Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee”. Our Blessed Mother is so very powerful and such a source of comfort and strength. I cannot imagine not knowing Her.

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  35. Be with us Mary our Mother along the way and guide every step we take. Pray for the wandered dear Mother, pray for me… Lead us all to your loving son Jesus our Saviour and show us Mercy. Amen

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  36. Great article, Pete! Thanks for getting the word out about a great thing in Butte.

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  37. +What a beautiful statue of Mary and testament to her and people’s faith in God+

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  38. Sorry. Total idolitry. Jesus is the way the truth and the light. Not mary. She was a sinner just as u and are. Stop worshipping idols on your high places. Love you all.

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    • Get educated. You are totally lost in regard to “idols.”

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    • Steve” sorry, but by whose authority are you commissioned to judge?

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  39. “Butte’s economy and spirits vastly improved during construction and the years immediately following: jobs increased, several business started and reopened”

    I know this is a spiritual article, but from a natural economic point of view, would Keynes be surprised?

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  40. My heart is full of pride and gratitude to all of the men and women who participated in making this beautiful and memorable landmark possible for the people of Butte, and all its visitors to see, admire and marvel at this icon of LOVE. Many, many thanks to all of you from a grateful mother and grandmother of the proud city of Butte!❤️

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  41. This is a very nice article on the Our Lady of the Rockies. Thank you for mentioning that it was an engineering marvel. My father, Laurien E. Riehl, was the volunteer engineer for the statue and designed the foundation and internal structure, so it would withstand the force of wind on the Continental Divide. December 2015 the Montana Standard published a “tab” that honored the 30 year anniversary for Our Lady of the Rockies. The article features the plans made by my father. The statue was a testament to the spirit of the people of Butte who donated time, money, and equipment.

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