October 1, 2017

Last Saturday, September 23rd, Fr. Stanley Rother was declared “Blessed” in a Beatification Mass in Oklahoma City. Fr. Rother, who was murdered in Guatemala in 1981, became the first U.S. born priest to be beatified. Fr. Rother’s life shows the extraordinary sacrifice that is possible in an otherwise ordinary life. 

Fr. Rother was born in 1935 in Okarche, Oklahoma, and grew up on his family farm. He discerned a call to the priesthood but struggled with his studies, After six years of struggle, (failing theology twice—classes were in Latin and he had a very hard time with this traditional language of the Church), he was asked to leave the seminary and returned home to Okarche. His pastor at Holy Trinity Church accompanied Stanley and his father to a meeting with the then Bishop of Oklahoma City, Victor Reed.

In that meeting, Bishop Reed saw something in Stanley that prompted him to give him another chance. He sent him to a different seminary, where he did well and was ordained to the priesthood in 1963.

Pope John XXIII had encouraged outreach to the Church in Latin America and Fr. Rother joined a mission in Santiago Aititlan in Guatemala. This town on the rim of Lake Atitlan, was one of the hardest hit in violence that cost 200,000 lives during Guatemala's 26-year war that ended in 1996. Most of the dead were unarmed indigenous Maya, like the Tzutujil Maya who live Santiago, cut down by a brutal army.

At the mission he put his farming skills to use and lived and worked side-by-side with the indigenous people. Some peasant farmers had to walk three hours to farm their small plot of land. Fr. Rother started a 110 acre cooperative in which they experimented with fertilizers and higher yield crops.

He learned Spanish as well as the more difficult Mayan dialect of Tzutujil, the language of most of his parishioners. He supported the dangerous work of local parishioners who worked to translate the Mass, and then the New Testament into the local language. He simply wanted his parishioners to be able to understand the word of God. Such work, which could empower the poor, was seen as a threat by the army who supported wealthy landowners. Fr. Rother hid the translators and provided a secure place for them to do their work.

He became known to the army, and after more than a decade ministering at the mission, he began to receive death threats. He returned a few times to Oklahoma, and in his last visit in 1981, he shared with friends that he had to go back. His people were threatened. His friends report him saying, “The shepherd cannot run. I want to be with my people." Within three days of his return, three men entered his rectory in the dead of night and murdered him on July 28, 1981.

The martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother "fills us with sadness but also gives us joy to see the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of faith," Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said last Saturday at his Beatification Mass.

He is "an authentic light for the church and the world," the cardinal said in his homily. "He didn't hate but loved. He didn't destroy but built up. This is the invitation that Blessed Stanley Rother extends to us today to be like him as witnesses and missionaries of the Gospel. Society needs this source of good.”

May we gain inspiration and courage from Blessed Stanley Rother and work to love and to build up those in need who we encounter in our lives. Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us!

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni