By Martha Mary McGaw, CSJ
(Page 3, August 16, 1981)
The Beautiful American is what Archbishop Charles Salatka called Father Stanley Rother who was martyred in Guatemala on July 28, 1981.
“He went forth from his own country to share the love of Christ,” the archbishop, who was principal celebrant and homilist, said at the Mass of Christian Burial on Aug. 3.
Father Rother, was buried in the red vestments of a martyr, wearing a stole made especially for him by his beloved Tzutuhil Indians. In Oklahoma City, Father Rothers’ funeral was held at Our Lady’s Cathedral with a standing room only congregation. He was buried in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Okarche, in the family plot.
Three Masses of Christian Burial were offered for Father Rother: two in Guatemala (at the mission on July 29 and in Guatemala City on July 30). And the final one in Oklahoma City. In addition, a memorial Mass was offered at Holy Trinity Church on Sunday, Aug. 2. His home parish where they clamed him as there own.
In Guatemala they claimed him too. When the Indians in Santiago Atitlan heard that he had been shot, they gathered by the hundreds and stood in the square facing the church, silently praying for their shepherd. More than a thousand stood there all day. Raymond Bailey, staff member of the American Embassy in Guatemala said: “When I saw the scene at the church with hundreds of people standing looking toward the church, it was like their God had died. It was a sight I’will remember the rest of my life.”
On Wednesday, July 29, two bishops and 35 priests concelebrated Father Rother’s funeral Mass at Santiago, Atitlan. To enable as many as possible of his people to be present, the benches had been removed from the church. More than 2,500 Indians stood within the church, thousands more stood outside.
When it was learned that Father Rother’s body would be returned to the United States, the Indians had made a special request to keep his heart and bury it at the church. They received permission from ecclesiastical and civil authorities to do so and in a touching ceremony at this Mass, the heart of the murdered priest as well as the gauze with which his blood had been carefully saved, were interned in the floor of the church sanctuary. No one was loved by the Indians with the intensity with which Father Rother was loved, a former staff member of the mission said, even though the priests who had preceded Father Rother were also loved.
Father Rother’s body was flown from Guatemala to Oklahoma City on July 31, arriving at the Will Rogers Airport. Members of the family and friends were at the airport to welcome and to witness the return of the missionary’s body. Archbishop Salatka was allowed to wait on the runway as the coffin was taken off the plane so that he might give the martyred priest the solemn blessing of the church.
The ordination card which Father Rother had designed for himself in 1963, it was remarked by a friend, was fulfilled in his life and death: “For my own sake, I am a Christian; for the sake of others I am a priest. Father Rother was ordained a priest on May 25, 1963. He died July 28, 1981, 18 years later, 13 of which had been spent in Guatemala.
(As printed in the August 16, 1981 Sooner Catholic)His Indian friends kept his heart in Guatemala