She stands with open arms atop a mountain ridge on the continental divide overlooking Butte, Montana.
“Our Lady of the Rockies,” the fourth tallest statue in the United States, began as one man’s desperate prayer. It’s now a shrine to mothers everywhere.
For the love of a mother
In 1979, Bob O’Bill’s beloved spouse Joyce was deathly ill. The Butte resident vowed to build a statue in the likeness of Mary, mother of Jesus, if his wife — and mother of his two children — recovered, according to Joyce.
“He at first was going to make a small statue, a five-foot-high statue” Joyce O’Bill told CNN. “He was worried about raising our daughters by himself, and… well he was worried about me.”
When Joyce made a full recovery, her overjoyed husband set out to show his appreciation in a much bigger way.
“And then his friends got involved and more people got involved,” Joyce said. “They all got behind him and built it. I think each one of the guys and the people working on it felt that individual love for their mothers and their family. They all poured their love into her.”
Six years later, Bob’s team had built a road to the mountain top, poured a 400-ton concrete base and erected the statue. A helicopter lowered the final piece into place in December 1985.
Bob O’Bill passed away in 2016, but his 90-foot steel statue continues to inspire.
Though visitors have left hundreds of rosaries dangling from its interior beams, the caretakers of Our Lady of the Rockies point out that she is a non-denominational symbol to “recognize the dignity of motherhood and the sacrificial love a mother has for her child.”
The makeshift shrine of personal mementos inside the statue pays tribute to mothers, regardless of religion or belief. Stuffed animals, plaques, candles and handwritten notes to individual mothers all echo a common sentiment: Thank you.
“When visitors come here, they think about their mom,” Mike Cerise, president of the Our Lady of the Rockies board, told CNN. “And many want to leave something to show their feelings.”
A lasting memorial for women
In 2001, volunteers started a Women’s Memorial wall at the chapel and observatory next to the statue. When they made dedication forms available online, names poured in from around the world. The growing memorial now covers all the walls of the building, with over 15,000 name tiles.
Cerise said that many visitors have made pilgrimages to the site to find the name tiles of the mothers they love.
“Some make the trip, even from far away, to just see the name on the wall.” Cerise said. “We have tried to create a place here where you can take some time.”
The grounds of the statue offer many spots for reflection. And at an elevation of 8,510 feet, visitors are surrounded with quiet solitude and serene mountain vistas.
The high placement of the statue also makes her visible for miles, especially at night when the lights come on and reflect off her gleaming white surface. Dedications for the nightly lighting, called Our Lady Lights, are placed in the local paper, the Montana Standard.
“I am glad we got her up there to watch over us,” Joyce said. “People in Butte appreciate it I think. They decided to dedicate her to all mothers and that’s love.”