Oklahoma Archbishop on 1st US-born Martyr: Father Rother Was Truly a Heroic Witness

“The shepherd cannot run,” priest said in returning to his parish, knowing he’d likely be killed

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Pope Francis on Friday recognized Oklahoma priest Father Stanley Francis Rother as a martyr, clearing the way for his beatification. He is the first person born in the US to be recognized as a martyr.

The Positio on the life and martyrdom of Father Rother previously had been discussed and approved by a panel of nine theologians and more recently by a group of 15 Cardinals and Archbishops who voted affirmatively to recognize his martyrdom in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith). The Positio refers to the volume containing the evidence that was collected from witness testimonies in both Oklahoma and Guatemala, and supporting documents during an inquiry conducted by a special tribunal of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, created to carry out this investigation.

 

The beatification ceremony could come as early as next fall.

“We’re just thrilled, and grateful to God and to all those who have worked to promote the cause of Father Rother,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City. “The Church needs heroic witnesses to advance the mission of Christ, and Father Rother was truly a heroic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave his life in pastoral service to his people. I am looking forward to the celebration of his beatification.”

Father Stanley Francis Rother was born in Okarche, Oklahoma, in 1935 where he grew up on a farm just northwest of Oklahoma City. After graduating from Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Father Rother was ordained on May 25, 1963. He served in several parishes in Durant, Tulsa and Oklahoma City before volunteering for mission service in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala in June 1968.

Father Rother was well-loved by the local people and helped establish a school, radio station and health clinic, and worked to translate the Gospels into their native dialect. By the late 1970s, the village was experiencing political and military unrest with parishioners disappearing and being found dead days later along roadsides. Father Rother made one last trip home to Oklahoma to see his parents in January 1981, and then, despite knowing his name was included on “hit lists,” returned to Guatemala to stay with his people, telling his family he must return because “the shepherd cannot run.”

On July 28, 1981, in his rectory, three masked men shot Father Rother, killing him. Days later, his body was returned to Oklahoma, but his heart stayed behind to be buried at his parish in Santiago Atitlan.

In October 2007, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City under the direction of Archbishop Eusebius Beltran opened a Cause of Canonization for Father Rother.

“My heart and my soul rejoice at the announcement regarding the beatification of Father Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma martyr,” said the archbishop emeritus of Oklahoma City. “I thank Almighty God for the inspiration to initiate the cause for the canonization of Father Rother. I thank the many faithful people of our archdiocese and beyond who labored so diligently on the acts of this cause, and also for the many people whose prayers have helped to make this possible. Father Stanley Rother, pray for us.”

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.

For information on Father Rother’s life and the process for sainthood, go online to www.archokc.org/cause-for-beatification-of-father-stanley-rother/home or visit the Rother Guild website at http://rotherguild.org.

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