The dedication of the shrine
February 17, 2023
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.” —–Blessed Stanley Rother
- Biography of Blessed Stanley Rother
Stanley Francis Rother was born March 27, 1935, in Okarche, Oklahoma. The oldest of the children born to Franz and Gertrude Rother, he grew up on a farm and attended Holy Trinity Catholic Church and School. He worked hard doing 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. He completed his studies at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. Father Rother served as an associate pastor for five years in Oklahoma.
He sought and received permission to join the staff at the Oklahoma diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. He served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil, who are decedents of the Mayans. Although he struggled with Latin in the seminary, Father Rother learned Spanish and the Tz’utujil language in Guatemala. He celebrated Mass in their language and helped translate the New Testament.
Father Rother was surrounded by extreme poverty among the Tz’utujil, who were living in one-room huts growing what they could on their small plots of land. He ministered to his parishioners in their homes; eating with them, visiting the sick and aiding them with medical issues. He even put his farming skills to use by helping them in the fields, bringing in different crops, and building an irrigation system.
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.
In 2007, his Cause for Canonization was opened. In June 2015, the Vatican in Rome voted to formally recognize Oklahoma’s Father Stanley Rother a martyr. The determination of martyrdom was a critical step in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City’s Cause to have Father Rother beatified, the final stage before canonization as a saint.
On Dec. 1, 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Father Rother as a martyr for the faith. He is the first martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified. The Rite of Beatification was held on Sept. 23, 2017, in downtown Oklahoma City – an event attended by more than 20,000 people from around the world.
Blessed Stanley Rother’s story is the subject of various books, documentaries and an upcoming feature film. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is in the final stages of design of a 2,000-seat shrine church, museum and campus in his honor, to be located in south Oklahoma City.