reflections, updates and homilies from Deacon Mike Talbot inspired by the following words from my ordination: Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach...
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Feast of American born Priest and Martyr
July 28t + Blessed Stanley Rother
The first US-born priest and martyr to be beatified and the second person to be beatified on US soil.
Stanley Francis Rother (March 27, 1935 – July 28, 1981) was an American Roman Catholic priest from Oklahoma who was murdered in Guatemala. Ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963, he held several parish assignments there until 1968 when he was assigned as a missionary priest to Guatemala where he was murdered in 1981 in his Guatemalan mission rectory.
On December 1, 2016, Pope Francis issued a decree confirming that Rother had been killed "in odium fidei" (in hatred of the faith) which would allow him to be beatified. Rother was beatified on September 23, 2017, during a Mass at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. He is the first US-born priest and martyr to be beatified by the Catholic Church and the second person to be beatified on US soil following the 2014 beatification of New Jersey-born nun Miriam Teresa Demjanovich.Contents
Stanley Francis Rother was born on March 27, 1935, in Okarche, one of four children of Franz Rother and Gertrude Smith, who farmed near that Oklahoma town. He was baptized on March 29, 1935, in Okarche's Holy Trinity Church by Father Zenon Steber. He had a sister, Betty Mae, who became Sister Marita on taking her vows, and two brothers, Tom and Jim.
Rother was strong and adept at farm tasks. After completing high school at Holy Trinity School, he decided to become a priest. He studied at Saint John Seminary and then Assumption Seminary in San Antonio in Texas. He served as a sacristan, groundskeeper, bookbinder, plumber, and gardener. After almost six years, the seminary staff advised him to withdraw.
Following consultation with his local bishop Victor Reed, Rother attended Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland from which he graduated in 1963. Bishop Reed ordained him to the priesthood on May 25, 1963. Rother served as an associate pastor in various parishes around Oklahoma: Saint William in Durant, Saint Francis Xavier and the Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, and Corpus Christi in Oklahoma City. In 1968 – at his request – he was assigned to the mission of the archdiocese to the Tz'utujil people (also spelled Tz'utuhil) located in Santiago Atitlán in the rural highlands of southwest Guatemala. While he was at Corpus Christi, he had learned a priest was needed in Guatemala and so applied and was accepted by Reed in 1968.
So that Rother could be in closer touch with his congregation, he set out to work to learn Spanish and the Tz’utujil language which was an unwritten and indigenous language that the missionary Ramón Carlín once recorded. He served in Santiago Atitlán from 1968 until his death. He supported a radio station located on the mission property, which transmitted daily lessons in language and mathematics. In 1973 he noted with pride in a letter: "I am now preaching in Tz'utuhil." During that time, in addition to his pastoral duties, he translated the New Testament into Tz'utujil and began the regular celebration of the Mass in Tz'utujil. In the late 1960s, Rother founded in Panabaj a small hospital, dubbed as the "Hospitalito"; Father Carlín served as a collaborator in this project.
By 1975, Rother had become the de facto leader of the Oklahoma-sponsored mission effort in Guatemala as other religious and lay supporters rotated out of the program. He was a highly recognizable figure in the community, owing to his light complexion as well as his habit of smoking tobacco in a pipe. Since there was not a Tz'utujil name equivalent to "Stanley," the people of Rother's mission affectionately called him "Padre Apla's," translated as "Father Francis," a nod to his middle name.
Within the last year of his life, Rother saw the radio station smashed and its director murdered. His catechists and parishioners would disappear and later be found dead, with their bodies showing signs of being beaten and tortured. Rother knew all this when he returned to Guatemala in May 1981. In December 1980, he had addressed a letter to the faithful in Oklahoma and wrote about the violent situation: "This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger."
At the beginning of 1981 Rother was warned that his name was on a death list of the radical death squads (he was number eight on the list) and that he should leave Guatemala at once to remain alive. Rother was reluctant but he nonetheless returned to Oklahoma in January and while home in Okarche, celebrated a mass served by Daniel Henry Mueggenborg, a college student who became inspired by Rother to pursue the priesthood, though he later asked the archbishop for permission to return. Another reason for returning was that he wanted to celebrate Easter with them. Rother went back to Santiago Atitlán in April and knew that he was being watched.
On the morning of July 28, 1981, just after midnight, shooters broke into Rother's church's rectory and shot him twice in the head after a brief struggle. The killers forced the teenager Francisco Bocel (who was in the church) to lead them to Rother's bedroom. The men threatened to kill Bocel if he did not show them Rother, and so Bocel led them downstairs and knocked on a door near the staircase.Rother opened the door, and a struggle ensued as Bocel escaped.
Rother was one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and were buried in his hometown on August 3, 1981, in Holy Trinity Cemetery. At the request of his former Tz'utujil parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served.
Three men were arrested on charges of murder within weeks of Rother's murder; another man and woman were sought for questioning at that stage as well. The three men arrested admitted to having entered the church in a robbery attempt, and also admitted to having shot Rother dead when the priest attempted to stop them. Despite the confessions, many people familiar with the circumstances of the murder considered the three accused persons as innocent, and the prosecutions to be a cover-up of paramilitary involvement in the murder. Convictions for all three men were later overturned by a Guatemalan appellate court, under pressure from U.S. authorities. No other suspects have been prosecuted for the murder.