Stanley Rother

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The Servant of God, the Reverend
Stanley Rother
Stanley Rother.jpg
Ordination May 25, 1963
by Victor Reed
Personal details
Born (1935-03-27)March 27, 1935
Okarche, Oklahoma,
United States
Died July 28, 1981(1981-07-28) (aged 46)
Santiago Atitlan, Sololá, Guatemala
Buried Okarche, Oklahoma, United States (Heart preserved in Santiago Atitlan)
Nationality American
Denomination Roman Catholic
Parents Franz and Gertrude Rother
Alma mater Mount St. Mary's University
Title as Saint Priest and martyr

Stanley Francis Rother (March 27, 1935 - July 28, 1981) was an American Catholic priest and missionary to Guatemala. He was murdered on July 28, 1981, by a death squad—believed to have been made up of right-wing extremists and elements of the Guatemalan Army. The Congregation of the Causes of Saints of the Holy See officially recognized Rother on June 23, 2015, as a martyr, a critical stage before beatification.[1]

Early life[edit]

Rother was born on March 27, 1935, the son of Franz and Gertrude Rother, who had a farm near Okarche, Oklahoma. He grew up to be a strong, young man, adept at the many tasks required on the farm. Nonetheless, after completing high school, he declared his calling to the priesthood. To prepare for this, he was sent to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. His talents gained working on the farm, however, left him with so many duties at the seminary that his studies suffered. After nearly six years, the seminary staff advised him to withdraw.[2]

After consultion with his bishop, Victor Reed, Rother then attended Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, from which he graduated in 1963. He was ordained by Reed as a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa (now the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City) on May 25 of that same year. Rother then served as an associate pastor in various parishes around Oklahoma. In 1968, at his own request, he was assigned to the mission of the archdiocese to the Tz'utujil people located in Santiago Atitlán, in the rural highlands of southwest Guatemala.[3]

Mission work in Guatemala[edit]

So that he could be in close touch with his people, Rother set to work to learn Spanish and then the indigenous Tzutuhil language, an unwritten, language until an earlier missionary, Ramón Carlín, had set about putting it into written form. Rother went to live with a native family for a while to get a better grasp of practical conversation. After Carlin’s death, he continued working on a translation of the gospels into that language. He worked with the people to show them how to read and write. He supported a radio station located on the mission property which transmitted daily lessons in language and mathematics.[2] He served in Santiago Atitlán for 13 years. 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 that same tongue.[3]

Rother also founded a small hospital to serve the community, which was located in Panabaj. The "Hospitalito"[4] and the whole neighborhood of Panabaj were buried in the mudslides that followed Hurricane Stan in October 2005. While residing in a temporary building, construction of a permanent facility began on November 10, 2008 (Approx. 15°38'59.40"N 91°13'30.61"W). The "Hospitalito" re-opened during the dedication of the first floor on November 19, 2010, and now plays a vital role in the healthcare of the Lake Atitlán community.[5]

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, their bodies showing signs of having been beaten and tortured. Rother knew all this when he returned to Guatemala in May 1981.[2]

Death threat and murder[edit]

In early 1981 Rother was warned that his name was on a death list and that he should leave Guatemala.[6][7] He returned to Oklahoma in January 1981,[6] but asked for permission to return. Rother went back to Santiago Atitlán in April.[7] On the morning of July 28, gunmen broke into the rectory of his church and shot him twice in the head after a brief struggle.[7] The killers forced a gardener to lead them to the bedroom of the "red-bearded Oklahoma-born missionary".[8] He was one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Burial and veneration[edit]

Memorial plaque in Santiago Atitlán.

Rother's body was flown back to Oklahoma City and was buried in his home town of Okarche, Oklahoma. At the request of his former Tzutuhil parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served.[3]

Since Rother's death, led by the Archbishop of Oklahoma City, Eusebius J. Beltran, the Catholics of Oklahoma and Guatemala consider him to be a martyr for the Catholic faith.[9] The archdiocese has petitioned the Holy See to designate Rother as "fit for veneration" (a step on the path to sainthood).[9][10] His case was accepted by Rome, and he was thereby granted the title of Servant of God.

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