By Emily VanEcko
Stanley was born on March 27, 1935, in Okarche, Oklahoma. He was the oldest of four children and attended the Holy Trinity Catholic Church and school. He worked hard on his chores, went to school, played sports, and was also an altar boy. In high school he made the decision to discern to the priesthood and went to seminary in Texas.
While in seminary, he struggled with Latin studies to the point that he was asked to leave the seminary because of his inadequate grades. He went to speak with the bishop at the time, Bishop Victor Reed, and he decided to let Stanley have a second chance. Stanley then enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, and was later ordained as a priest on May 25, 1963. For five years he worked as a pastor in Oklahoma, then Pope John XXIII sent him to the mission in Santiago, Guatemala.
Although he was in a new and intimidating country, he instantaneously made a great connection with the people of Santiago Atitlan. The main tribe there are the Tz’utujil, the main descendants of the Ancient Mayans. To be able to evangelize and spread the faith, Fr. Rother had to learn both Spanish and the Tz’utujil language. One of his great achievements is his translation of the Catholic bible’s New Testament to the Tz’utujil language. For years he assisted the people with agriculture, helped the sick, and provided faithful company.
A few years later, a civil war between the government and the Catholic Church ravaged the city; Father Stanley was stuck in the war-torn city. The violence grew and spread to the point that Stanley discovered a Hit-List with his name on it. He went back to Oklahoma for his safety, but was majorly conflicted about whether he should return to the village or not. Finally, he decided that he had to go back and give his life to his people.
He stated that “the shepherd cannot run,” meaning that he has to help guide his people and cannot leave them by themselves. He went back knowing that there was a high chance he would be attacked or murdered. On July 28th, three men entered his rectory, fought with him, and finally murdered Father Rother. The killers were never found, but the Catholic community was shaken by the execution.
The people of Santiago Atitlan lamented over the loss of their leader, priest, and friend. The people, who were inspired by Father Stanley’s bravery, nominated him for the process of canonization.
On December 2, 2016, Pope Francis officially announced Father Rother as a true martyr for the Catholic Church. He is the very first recognized martyr for America and the first American born priest to be beatified.
The beatification was in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, at the Cox Convention Center. Catholics and believers from all over the country attended. The village’s people that he so dearly loved and that so dearly loved him also came to honor their old friend. The mass started with thousands of people and hundreds of priests and holy people. There were four magnificent choirs who performed individually. Then, the people of Santiago Atitlan walked all the way around the stadium while drumming and marching. After that, the swordsmen took their places around the priests. Once they were completely ready, Cardinal Ángelo Amato, S.D.B. walked in with the Gospel and many bishops training behind him. The beatification process began with Archbishop Beltran reading a brief biography of the Venerable Servant of God Stanley Rother. Cardinal Amato then read the Apostolic Letter, which was written by Pope Francis, and deemed Stanley a Blessed person. A giant velvet curtain fell down and a beautiful image of Blessed Father Rother was unveiled underneath. In the final process of the beatification, the cardinal blessed Father Stanley’s relics which were then infused with incense.
Father Rother is an inspirational example of how we should live our lives while accepting God’s plans for us. His bravery is noteworthy and motivating.