Father Stanley Rother, the first recognized American-born martyr, will be beatified on Sept. 23.
Fr. Rother was a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma city. He served in Guatemala until he was martyred there in 1981. He is famous for returning to his Guatemalan parish, knowing he would likely die, because he said, “the shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”
His remains are divided between Guatemala and Oklahoma.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City made the beatification announcement on March 13. The archdiocese posted on their facebook page that the beatification Mass will take place at 10 a.m. at Cox Convention Center.
Archbishop Paul S. Coakely of the Oklahoma Archdiocese of Oklahoma City wrote a letter on the announcement, saying that Father Rother’s life serves as a commendable example of Christian discipleship for all of the faithful.
“I pray that his witness will inspire many young men to be open to God’s call to the priesthood and all of the faithful to realize that holiness is nothing more, and nothing less than the full flowering of our baptismal grace. We are all called to become saints,” the archbishop wrote.
Early life and ministry
According to a fact sheet provided by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Fr. Rother was born on a farm outside Okarch, Oklahoma on MArch 27, 1935. He was one of five children.
Like St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, Father Rother struggled in seminary. He failed several classes, and even failed out of one seminary entirely, according to Catholic News Agency. But he persevered, and was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. He served as an assistant pastor in various parishes in the archdiocese until he left for Guatemala in 1968.
Despite his struggles in seminary, Father Rother was beloved by the Guatemalan people. He lived in the diocese of Solola, which the New York Times described as “a desperately poor area” in the highlands of Guatemala.
Father Rother learned the native Tzhuthil language, and even translated the New Testament and celebrated Mass in iit, like a 20th century St. Cyril or Methodius. He put his farmboy upbringing to good use by repairing the parish rectory, digging a well and installing a pump, repairing the church, building a parish hall and working to improve the productivity of the local farms. He also helped build a new hospital, school and a radio station.
However, the political climate in Guatemala was turbulent, and descended into chaos in the late 70s and early 80s. By December 2, 1980, Father Rother reported that 10 men had been taken fr om the area. Many were found dead along roadsides. Father Rother’s catechist’s name appeared on a “death list”, causing him to join Father Rother in the rectory. It was during this time that Fr. Rother sent a letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, coining his now-famous quote.
“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,” he wrote.
Death and veneration
In 1981, Father Rother learned that his name was on a death list. In May, he came home for his cousin’s ordination, but quickly returned to Guatemala despite warnings to stay away.
On July 28, 1981, three masked men broke into the rectory and shot dead Father Rother. He was one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year.
Days later, his body was returned to Oklahoma, but his heart and stayed behind to be buried at his parish in Santiago Atitlan, where his blood had been spilled.
In October 2007, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City under the direction of Archbishop Eusebius Beltran opened a Cause of Canonization for Father Rother. In September 2014, Archbishop Coakley presented the Positio of Father Rother to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome. In 2015, the Theology Commission of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints voted to recognize Father Rother a martyr.
Once beatified, the next step of Father Rother’s cause will require a verified miracle before he can be canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church.
“Once beatified, our task on Father Rother’s behalf is not complete. In order for him to be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, a miracle must be attributed to his intercession. Such miracles are usually medical miracles, that is, healings that cannot be explained by medical science,” Archbishop Coakley wrote.