Catholic youth inspired by Fr. Rother’s life

By Eliana Tedrow
The Sooner Catholic

Youth from around the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City are seeing their faith strengthened as they witness firsthand the process of beatification for the Venerable Servant of God Stanley Rother. The beatification is an exciting event for a generation of youth who sometimes find it difficult to relate to the lives of saints, who they say can seem ancient or too perfect.

Students at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Okarche, where Father Rother attended, walk the same hallways Father Rother once did as a child. Mackenzie Schneiter, an eighth grade student at Holy Trinity, said Father Rother’s choice to stay with his people in Guatemala, even in the face of death, inspires her faith.

“I’m very fortunate,” Schneiter said, “that I live in the community where he was born, in fact, we are distantly related. Living here, I have had the opportunity to hear so many stories about Father Stan from people who knew him, went to school with him and went to church with him. In all of those stories, what has spoken to me, is that he was really just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary faith and love for God.”

A local, modern day saint-in-the-making, Oklahoma youth find themselves immersed in stories and artifacts of Father Rother. They are able to interact with people who knew Father Rother and speak to his faithfulness. This brings to life the potential for a new, modern saint to whom they can relate and rekindle their fervor for their Catholic faith.

“He got it,” Schneiter says, “He knew the most important thing in this world was sharing his faith with everyone, but especially the people of Guatemala. The way he lived and died is such an example to all of us.”

Schneiter’s classmate, Abby McIlvaine, agrees, “Every morning when I walk into school, I see the picture of him, and I ask myself, ‘what can I do today to be like Father Rother?’ And, that becomes the mindset of my day.”

McIlvaine says Father Rother has helped her realize anybody can become a saint. Most importantly, she said, “you don’t have to be a recognized saint to help other people in need.”

In May of this year, the fifth through eighth grade classes of Saint Mary Catholic School in Ponca City visited the original grave of Father Rother in Okarche before his body was exhumed this past spring.

Principal Marilyn Nash said many of their students were “able to relate to the fact that Father Rother began his life as a farm boy in a small town in Oklahoma.” Their field trip was a chance for the students at Saint Mary to “see how God does use ordinary people for extraordinary purposes.”

In Guatemala, Father Rother’s witness has inspired an increase in vocations.

“The faith really came alive in the parish (in Guatemala),” said the Most Rev. Anthony Taylor, Bishop of Little Rock and formerly of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “The parish was founded in 1547. Between 1547 and 1981, there was not a single vocation to the priesthood from that parish in over 400 years. Since 1981, there have been nine priests ordained from that one parish and they've got another seven in the seminary. That is a powerful measure of how his blood was the seed of faith of Christians.”

What appeared to be a regular Oklahoma man, Father Rother’s story is having a great impact on the faith journey of young people in a powerful, relatable way. A less than perfect student, they said Father Rother speaks to their hearts with the message that God can use anyone, wherever they are, for His perfect plan.

“In many ways, he started his life similar to me,” Schneiter said. “Knowing that has made me realize that I should strive to be like him, by standing up for those who need help, and sharing my faith with those around me. That’s why I have a picture of myself and a friend beneath the statute of Father Rother at Holy Trinity as the wallpaper on my phone, to remind me to try and live my life as Father Stan did his.”

Eliana Tedrow is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic. Editor Diane Clay contributed to this article.