Saint July 28 : Blessed Stanley Francis Rother an Oklahoma Priest and Missionary who Died a Martyr in Guatemala
The Story of Father Rother
Venerable Servant of God Stanley Francis Rother
Oklahoma Priest and Missionary
An Oklahoma farm boy, Father Stanley Francis Rother (ROW-THER) was born March 27, 1935, in Okarche, Oklahoma. Ordained a priest for what was then the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, he served in the diocese’s mission in Guatemala for 13 years. Seeking justice in the midst of a protracted civil war, Father Rother fought courageously for the well-being of his people in combating a culture that was excessively hostile to the Catholic Church.
The oldest of four children born to Franz and Gertrude Rother, Father Rother grew up in Okarche and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School.
Being a normal child raised on a farm, he worked hard doing the required chores, attended school, played sports, was an altar server and enjoyed the activities associated with growing up in a small town.
While in high school, he began to discern the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. He was accepted as a seminarian and was sent to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas.
The journey to ordination was not without its challenges. More practical than academic by nature, young Stanley struggled with Latin, which at the time was a critical requirement since the entire curriculum was being taught in Latin. Due to his difficulties, he was asked to leave the seminary as his grades were inadequate.
He sought the counsel of Bishop Victor Reed. It was decided that Stanley would be allowed a second chance, enrolling at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He graduated from the Mount and was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. Father Rother served as an associate pastor for five years in Oklahoma. Heeding the call of Pope John XXIII, he sought and received permission to join the staff at the diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.
Father Rother’s connection with the people of Santiago Atitlan was immediate. He served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil, who are decedents of the Mayans. In order to serve his people, Father Rother had to speak Spanish and the Tz’utujil language. He not only learned both languages, but his working knowledge of Tz’utujil enabled him to celebrate Mass in their language and help translate the New Testament. Tz’utujil was not a written language until the Oklahoma mission team arrived and so, despite his past issues with Latin, what he accomplished was remarkable.
As the years passed, Father Rother tried to live a simpler life to be in communion with his people. He was surrounded by extreme poverty with the Tz’utujil living in one-room huts growing what they could on their small plots of land.
While he served in Guatemala, a civil war raged between the militarist government forces and the guerrillas. The Catholic Church was caught in the middle due to its insistence on catechizing and educating the people. During this conflict, thousands of Catholics were killed. Eventually, Father Rother’s name appeared on a death list. For his safety and that of his associate, Father Rother returned home to Oklahoma. He didn’t stay long, though, as he was determined to give his life completely to his people, stating that “the shepherd cannot run.” He returned to Santiago Atitlan to continue the work of the mission.
Within a few months, three men entered the rectory around 1 a.m. on July 28, 1981, fought with Father Rother and then executed him. His death shocked the Catholic world. No one was ever held responsible. The people of Santiago Atitlan mourned the loss of their leader and friend. They requested that Father Rother’s heart be kept in Guatemala where it remains enshrined today.