Guatemalan bishop reflection on mission work of Blessed Stanley Rother

Bishop of Sololá-Chimaltenango celebrates Mass; gives talk at St. Gregory’s University

By Judy Hilovsky
The Sooner Catholic
Bishop Gonzalo de Villa y Vásquez, bishop of the Diocese of Sololá-Chimaltenango where Blessed Stanley Rother served, celebrated Mass on Sept. 21 in the Saint Gregory’s Abbey Church in Shawnee.

He also presented a lecture "The Fruits of Martyrdom: The Impact of Fr. Stanley Rother and the Other Martyrs on the Church in Guatemala" in the Sarkey’s Performing Arts Center followed by a reception in the Mabee Gerrer Museum of Art.

Bishop Villa spoke of Blessed Rother’s dedication to the people in Santiago Atitlán, located in an extremely poor rural area in southwestern Guatemala. He told the group that in 1968 there were only six priests there, all Americans. But, with the changes brought about by Vatican II, some left the priesthood, others just left Guatemala.

“Only Stanley stayed,” he told the crowd of nearly 100.
He became emotional several times as he talked about Blessed Stanley’s ability to connect with the local people.

“When he arrived in Guatemala in 1968, he decided something important was to learn the local language. He learned the Tz’utujil language, which is one of 20 indigenous languages spoken in Guatemala. And, he learned it. It was funny that he wasn’t able to learn that much Latin, but he had love and motivation to learn Tz’utujil,” Bishop Villa said.
Eventually, Father Rother translated the New Testament and taught parishioners to read and write. Together, he helped them farm, founded a hospital, a school and a radio station. According to Bishop Villa, the villagers honored Father Rother by calling him Padre Apla’s, the Tz’utujil name for Francis, his middle name.
Although it is an inspiring story to both Oklahoma and Guatemala, he credited Oklahomans with keeping the memories of Father Rother alive.

“I am very grateful to God for this day. It is very important to the Catholic Church,” he said.
He answered questions, including whether Father Rother had inspired more men to the priesthood and how it affected Guatemala.

He said, “I have ordained at least 75 to the priesthood in my 10 years as bishop and there have been more than 100 churches built.”
“My last reflection,” Bishop Villa said, “is in memory of Stan, in memory of Father Apla’s, in memory of somebody who was a wonderful priest who gave his life. He is a real treasure. And, a real treasure we have to keep as our own treasure. Not as a relic, but as something that helps us continue to be as Christian as he was, and to have a commitment to the Gospel as he did.”

Judy Hilovsky is a freelance writer for the Sooner Catholic.