FIRST AMERICAN MARTYR BEATIFIED

Seth Collins

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OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA- On September 23, 2017, over 20,000 Catholics gathered in Oklahoma City for the first beatification of a priest, missionary, and martyr in America. The ceremony was celebrated by Cardinal Amato, several archbishops, and over 50 other bishops, and was attended by hundreds of priests, deacons, and other religious.

Stanley Rother was born on March 27, 1935, on a farm in Okarche, Oklahoma.  He first entered a seminary in Texas, but after failing Latin he was asked to consider a different vocation.  

Rother was sure he was called to the priesthood and with the help of Bishop Victor Reed, entered into Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg Md.

He was ordained in 1963 and soon after, heeding the urges of Pope John XXIII, Fr. Rother volunteered to serve in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

There Rother put his farming skills to good use by helping the locals cultivate their farms and even buying them a large plot of land to use for crops for the starving impoverished people.

He helped open a radio station, a school, and a hospital in Santiago Atitlan.Perhaps most impressive was his work translating the New Testament from Spanish into Tz’utujil, the people’s native language.

All this work established Stanley Rother as a greatly beloved father of the community.  

Soon after, however, Rother received news that he had been put on the death list by the Guatemalan government, most likely due to the empowering affect his work had on the lower class. Upon learning this, he knew he must return to the United States, at least until his name was taken of the list.

In May 1981, Rother chose to return to Atitlan. When his brother, Tom Rother, heard of this he was very confused.

“Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re going to kill you.”

To which Fr. Stanley replied,“Well… a shepherd cannot run from his flock.”

On the night of July 27th, three men walked into the rectory and, after a struggle with Rother, shot him twice in the head.

When the sisters, who were nearby, heard the gunshots, they ran immediately to the rectory where they found his corpse in a pool of blood.  His knuckles were bruised and bloody, showing that he had resisted his attempted captors, and yet he did not cry for help.

He would not wish to risk the lives of any of his people, even at the expense of his own, and he did not wish to simply disappear in the night, as over 130 of his parishioners already had, since this would do nothing but discourage the people of Santiago Atitlan.

“If they come for me, they will not get me out of the rectory alive.”

Since his death, Stanley Rother has long been mourned in Guatemala.  The people of Santiago Atitlan even requested that his heart be buried under the altar of the church where he served, in order that his heart could remain ever with his people.

To the people of Santiago Atitlan, there was no question that his death was martyrdom.  The cause for his beatification was started by Bishop Eusebius Beltran in 2007, and the formal cause was brought before Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, who had him declared a Servant Of God.

In 2016, Pope Francis confirmed his martyrdom and approved of his beatification, which was celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Causes of Saints, in the COX Convention Center in Oklahoma City.

The dedication of Father Stanley Rother to the people of Santiago Atitlan and his courage in the face of mortal danger illustrates a perfect model of Christian love and commitment in the form of a shepherd who would not run.

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FIRST AMERICAN MARTYR BEATIFIED