Priest's stole, stored in rectory, was indirect gift from Blessed Rother

By Andrew Ehrkamp
Catholic News Service

EDMONTON, Alberta (CNS) -- It's a simple stole, given as a gift and kept for years in the rectory of an Edmonton church, but it has a story rich in detail.

The long piece of cloth with vivid Mayan images was handcrafted more than four decades ago by villagers in Guatemala. It was given as a gift by Blessed Stanley Rother, a U.S.-born missionary who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981.

In September, Blessed Rother was beatified, a step in the process toward sainthood.

"It's a very beautiful gift," said Father Patrick Baska, pastor at St. Theresa Parish, who has owned the stole since June 22, 2006, when he received it as a gift for officiating a wedding in Edmonton.

The stole is an ecclesiastical vestment, draped off the shoulders like a scarf and worn during sacramental celebrations as a symbol of a priest's prophetic authority.

The stoles in Guatemala were woven and sold by the women of Santiago Atitlan, the rural village where Father Rother worked as a missionary. When a group of teenage girls from Father Rother's home diocese in Oklahoma came to visit, he gave them stoles as gifts.

"The idea was that should they marry or have a religious vocation, they would present the stole to the priest who received their vows, whether they were marriage vows or religious vows," Father Baska explained.

One of those teenagers was Catherine Mardon, now a retired lawyer in Edmonton, who kept her stole for years. In 2006, she gave it to Father Baska, then the pastor at St. Alphonsus Parish, when she married her husband Austin, a University of Alberta professor and a prominent mental health advocate.

This stole, about eight feet long, is woven in various shades of green, aqua, turquoise and blue, with images of a cross on a hill, sheaves of wheat, an anchor and a fish.

Father Baska said he was overwhelmed by the gift and its history, even more so now that Blessed Rother has been beatified. The Oklahoma priest was shot when three men, who had been fighting the local indigenous people, broke into the parish mission. Blessed Rother refused to leave, as he believed that would have put others in danger.

"To want to spend his priesthood serving in Guatemala was remarkable to me," Father Baska said. "It wasn't that he was sent there, but that he requested to serve there. That's fascinating to me. It's humbling."

Recently, Father Baska has taken a fresh look at his personal "treasure." He admitted he has not worn the stole very often. It was packed among his personal belongings when he took up his new appointment as pastor at St. Theresa Parish in August.

"When I went to look for this, it was in the basement level of the rectory among a whole bunch of other boxes I still haven't sorted out yet," he joked.

"But I found it. It's coming out of the box now for sure, where I can put it up or wear it."