Some years ago, I watched a short documentary about the life of Bl. Stanley Rother. I was really moved by his extraordinary life of heroic faith that I wanted to inform you about him.
Bl. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 in a small town in Oklahoma. Raised on a farm, his family was very much committed to instilling in their children the importance of faith. Very much a skilled farmer, everyone thought after he graduated high school he would become a farmer. However, Stanley amazed his town by declaring he wanted to be a priest.
While in seminary, Rother struggled with understanding Latin. After being in school for many years, the administrators requested that he withdraw due to struggling to keep up with the subject. But Stanley was persistent in being a priest, so he stayed. He later transferred to another seminary, got a tutor, and began to excel in his coursework. Finally, in 1963 he was ordained a priest. After serving as a priest in several parishes throughout the 60s, he finally received the start of his calling by which he is known. In 1968, Stanley heard of Oklahoma’s Guatemala mission. He felt this may be a good position for him, so he was approved to go.
When he arrived, the situation was dire. There were low mortality rates and abject poverty. So what was Fr. Rother’s first priority? Because he had no knowledge of the Spanish or Tzutuhil language, he took the time to learn both languages. This helped him as a Guatemalan pastor by eventually translating the Mass into the people’s language and translating the New Testament into their language as well.
Some very extraordinary things Fr. Rother was able to accomplish in his mission was creating a hospital, increased literacy to the native people, developed an educational radio station and showed the natives farming techniques. Fr. Rother met the people where they were. And that’s really remarkable about all saints taking the model of Jesus Christ. He was a frequent visitor of his parishioners and cared about them by his willingness to eat with them or help in their homes. Fr. Rother became highly well know and popular amongst the area because of his reputation for being charitable.
As the years went by, Guatemala became increasingly more hostile. Soon a civil war would develop and the Church was at the center of a military state. Rother began to hear rumors that his name was on a murder list. When officials in the diocese of Oklahoma heard about this, they requested that he come back. Out of concern for his safety, Fr. Rother returned back to Oklahoma.
While he was safely in Oklahoma, Fr. Rother continually regretted leaving his flock abandoned. He felt it was a pastor’s duty to protect those entrusted to him, which made him eventually go back to Guatemala to his parishioners. Sometime after he arrived back in Guatemala, a few armed individuals shot and murdered him in July 1981.
Fr. Rother is the first American born martyr. He is often viewed as a symbol of standing firm against danger. As I mentioned at the top of this article, his life demonstrated powerful love. So much in fact that he was willing to embrace the potential of death instead of living safely in the diocese of Oklahoma. Because of his death and extraordinary witness of faith, his martyrdom has inspired many to become a priest since 1981. The parish which was once lifeless has seen an influx in priests. Stanley planted that seed and the church is growing!
Fr. Stanley Rother reminds me of the verse Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Fr. Rother saw those entrusted to him as his own. As a shepherd leaves to go find the one sheep from the ninety-nine that has gone astray, so did He too model the same concern for his church in Guatemala.
If anything is to be learned from this very recent saintly model, it is only love. Love requires Christ to live in our lives and abandon our “me” mentality. Fr. Rother’s temporary move back to Oklahoma, although necessary, demonstrated the difficulty of balancing our “me” mentality with the love of neighbor.
Bl. Stanley Rother pray for our hearts so that we too may have the same love for our neighbor.
An Ordinary Martyr The Life and Death of Blessed Stanley Rother-://youtu.be/55y77RA3_eA
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