Father Stanley Francis Rother, martyr

December 11, 2016

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

On Friday, Dec. 2, we received the long awaited news that Pope Francis had declared Father Stanley Rother, Oklahoma priest and missionary, a martyr of the Catholic Church. This official announcement paves the way for his eventual beatification, sometime in 2017, after which he will be known as Blessed Stanley Francis Rother. Once beatified, his name will be included in the Roman martyrology, the official list of saints and blesseds of the Catholic Church.

Though this news surely has been received with tremendous rejoicing here in Oklahoma, it is a gift and blessing for our whole country and for the universal Church.

Born in Okarche in 1935, ordained a priest in Oklahoma City in 1963, Father Rother eventually volunteered to serve the Oklahoma mission in Guatemala. He spent the remainder of his life, from 1968 until his death in 1981, ministering to his flock in the remote villages of Santiago Atitlan and Cerro de Oro along the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan. Father Rother, or Padre Aplas as he was known to his Mayan parishioners, was murdered in his rectory at the parish church of Santiago Apostol on the night of July 28, 1981. 

Though Father Rother has been officially recognized as a martyr, he was one of many who suffered for their faith during those troubled times in Guatemala. What led to his martyrdom was his refusal to leave his flock untended during a time of terrible persecution when he witnessed many of his parishioners being kidnapped and murdered. This declaration of martyrdom is especially significant for the Church in Guatemala, which endured years of violent persecution during its long brutal civil war.

Father Rother’s holiness and heroic witness was immediately recognized by his beloved parishioners, who refused to let his body be taken from them and returned to Oklahoma for burial. The fortuitous decision was made to leave his heart in Santiago Atitlan where it has been enshrined and venerated in the parish church and among the parishioners for whom he gave his life and shed his blood.

His reputation for holiness and the manner of his life and death eventually led Archbishop Eusebius Beltran to open the cause for his canonization in 2007. The diocesan phase of that effort was concluded in 2010. Since that time, the cause for Servant of God Father Stanley Rother has been in the hands of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Their decision to recommend Father Rother to Pope Francis as a martyr, having truly been killed out of hatred for the faith, is what has led to this announcement.

I am grateful to Archbishop Beltran and to the many members of the archdiocesan commission and staff who labored to gather the testimony of dozens of witnesses here in Oklahoma as well as in Guatemala and elsewhere, and who prepared the documentation required for this important cause to advance. It has been a labor of love for many.

Father Rother now has been declared a martyr. He is the first U.S. born martyr, and the first U.S. born priest who has been approved for beatification. His beatification ceremony will take place here in Oklahoma City. We are awaiting information and instructions on how to proceed toward that wonderful day for the Church in Oklahoma and beyond.

Once beatified, our task on Father Rother’s behalf is not complete. In order for him to be canonized as a saint of the Catholic Church, a miracle must be attributed to his intercession. Such miracles are usually medical miracles, that is, healings that cannot be explained by medical science. Up to this time we have been praying for Father Rother’s beatification; now while continuing to pray for his canonization, we can seek his intercession and assistance to obtain heavenly favors for ourselves and for our loved ones.

Father Rother is being offered to the whole Church as a witness to the Gospel and to the power of God’s grace in our lives. He was an ordinary man, from an ordinary Catholic family. He responded to God’s call to the priesthood and to missionary labors in a foreign land. It was his fidelity to grace that enabled him to become all that God desired for him.

I pray that his witness will inspire many young men to be open to God’s call to the priesthood and all of the faithful to realize that holiness is nothing more, and nothing less than the full flowering of our baptismal grace. We are all called to become saints.