The incredible story of Montana’s 90-foot statue of Mary

One of the most picturesque views in Montana comes into focus when rounding the bend on eastbound Interstate 90, about 6 miles from the historic city of Butte. On the towering East Ridge overlooking the city sits the third-tallest statue in America: a 90-foot-tall homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, brilliantly white and perched 3500 feet above the valley floor.

Her story began in 1979 with Butte resident Bob O’Bill, whose wife was nearing death from cancer. O’Bill, who for many years worked as electrician in one of Butte’s surface mines, prayed that his wife be healed, and promised to build a 5-foot statue of Mary in his yard if God answered.

When his wife made a full recovery, O’Bill and his friends set about to fulfill the promise, but the plan soon developed from a small statue in a yard to a massive icon on a mountain.

An important note: During all of this, Butte – once a mining boomtown, the world’s top copper producer, and the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco – was suffering through its worst economic recession ever. Mining companies had left not long before, jobs were scarce, and morale in the most Irish city in America was at an all-time low.

And yet, through backbreaking volunteer labor, unparalleled generosity, and more than a little dose of the miraculous, the statue of Our Lady was finished in 1985, just over 30 years ago. The details of this amazing story parallel perfectly with lessons we hear over and over again in the life of Christ and in the life of the Church:

1. The builders, like the Apostles, were just regular guys. 

Bob O’Bill and his mining buddies, by the world’s standards, were nobody special. Leroy Lee, for example, the man who designed and welded the statue’s three pieces, brought no design experience and a grade school education to the table. But since when does God care about the world’s standards?

It was fishermen and tax collectors, not society’s elite, who became Jesus’ disciples. And the builders, like the Apostles, more than made up for it in their faith and their desire to follow the will of the King.

2. The Lord provided. 

What that community lacked in economic wealth, it made up for in generosity. Virtually every piece of the project was donated: the land on top of the East Ridge, the heavy machinery needed to cut a road up the mountain itself, the cement base for the statue, and (most of all) the labor.

As more men lost their jobs due to the recession, they gladly lent their time to pushing the project forward, while the volunteers’ families held benefit dinners and bake sales to make up for any intermediate costs. Even the placing of the three-piece, 60-ton statue atop the mountain, requiring a National Guard unit and Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, was given to them.

3. It was in their lowliness that they triumphed.

Throughout the centuries, in the life of nearly every saint and the story of almost every culture, the sense of the divine is highest when the individual or group is at their lowest point. The moment when all seems lost, when the world has dealt us its death blow, God’s grace is able to flow through in its freest form.

Butte, an aging titan of a fallen era, had been brought to its knees. Families struggled to put food on the table. There seemed to be no way out. And yet, at that very moment and in those very circumstances, a community was able to hope for something. Only then could this monument have been built, for surely in better times such a project would have been thought unnecessary or frivolous.

“It only could’ve been done in Butte,” O’Bill recalled.

4. The miracles. Oh, the miracles. 

The best part of the story. Leaving aside the sudden recovery and healing of O’Bill’s wife (seen in the video below), the sheer number of pieces that fell into place are astounding.

  • When panic set in with how the crew would pay to fuel up their seemingly abandoned donated heavy equipment, every tank was found to be completely filled with gas.
  • Each one of Leroy Lee’s welds when constructing the statue were inexplicably perfect, as he recounts in the documentary made last Christmas. 
  • On the day of completion, when Mary needed to be flown to the top of a normally gusty and windy East Ridge, the air was eerily and peacefully calm, with no wind to speak of.
  • And when the middle piece of the statue, the biggest and most awkward to carry of the three, caused the helicopter to careen sideways in midair and lose altitude, the pilot was able to somehow recover without dumping the load, eventually setting the piece safely atop the base and bringing tears of joy from those watching below.

These, of course, are only a few examples.

“Everything we asked of Mary up there, we got,” said Jim Keane, one of the builders.

So if you’re looking for a pilgrimage that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, make a drive to Butte this summer. Stop at Pork Chop Johns for lunch, then catch the shuttle from the Butte Plaza Mall up to the top. Always watching over us with her maternal gaze, Mary really is a sight to behold.

Our Lady of the Rockies, pray for us!


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“Office Space” Holiness

The 1999 movie Office Space is one of American film’s greatest cult classics, poignantly depicting mundane office life through the eyes of fed-up workers at a typical 90s software company.

Many who haven’t seen the movie may know it from its popular quotes like “I believe you have my stapler” or…


But the movie’s most iconic scene comes when the main character and two coworkers finally have enough of the never-functioning office printer.

The trio takes the printer out into a deserted meadow, tosses it to the ground, and begins to mercilessly pummel the machine with kicks, punches, and strikes from their trusty Louisville Slugger. Each takes his turn, and little is left of the inkjet by the end.

Though I haven’t watched the movie itself in several years, this scene sprung to my mind recently when watching a talk given by the ever-brilliant Bishop Robert Barron (because of course it did). Bishop Barron was talking about what he calls the “YouTube Heresies” — those topics frequently misconstrued in the comment section of the bishop’s popular videos.

One of those “heresies” involves atheists and agnostics often pointing the finger at the so-called vengeful God of the Old Testament through a story in the first book of Samuel, Chapter 15.

Saul, the king of Israel, had been ordered by God, through the prophet Samuel, to wage war on and entirely exterminate the nation of Amalek, which had ambushed and harmed the Israelites (God’s chosen people) in the book of Exodus on their way out of Egypt. Saul led his army in a successful battle, killing nearly everything save for Amalek’s best livestock, as well as their king, Agag.

Though Saul was satisfied with his victory, as well as the spoils he had taken from the Amalekites, Samuel was irate upon finding out what Saul had done. Reminding Saul of the order to eradicate the entire nation of Amalek, Samuel had all of the livestock killed, then (yes, this is in the Bible) had Agag brought before him where he “hacked Agag to pieces.” (1 Sam. 15:33)

The Word of the Lord…

So, a prophet of God brutally kills a man, and there’s supposed to be a parallel to office workers in a movie smashing a printer to bits?

As is always the case, there’s more to this Old Testament story than meets the eye.

The nation of Amalek, as the Church has understood it since the very early centuries, stands for sin. Samuel’s insistence to Saul that all of Amalek be wiped out is illustrative of God’s desire for us to be wholly pure, to aim and strive for complete and perfect union with him — which, as it were, is precisely what heaven will be.

What good is it, Bishop Barron says, for a husband to say to his wife, “Honey, I promise to be faithful to you 95 percent of the time!” or a person to say, “I promise to not kill my neighbor on 364 days of the year!” It’s an absurdity when we put it in those terms, but it should make similar sense when applying it to the more subtle areas of sin in our lives.

The printer, like Amalek, needed to be utterly destroyed, lest it be repaired and be able to rise again, causing renewed printer-jam anguish in the lives of lowly office workers.

And so it is with sin. It requires a radical decision on our part – one that asks us to leave nothing behind and to allow God to root out the entire problem, not just 95 percent of it. We should take a leaf out of books of Samuel and the Office Space trio, then, and begin to look at our sin with repulsion, striving to smash it to pieces daily through things like prayer, fasting, attending Confession and receiving the Eucharist.

God gives us the baseball bat. All that’s left for us is to use it.


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