Preface This booklet contains the letters written in the last year of his life by Father Stanley Rother. He was an American missionary to Guatemala who was murdered at his post in Santiago Atitlan in 1981.
The letters reveal not only the thoughts and feelings of a courageous man facing constant danger but also present enlightening background material to the drama of the larger struggle evolving in Central America during these 1980s. Stanley Rother stands as an unimpeachable witness to the events of his time and place in Central America.
I have not attempted to edit the letters in terms of spellings and punctuations. Only in a very few instances where the context showed an obvious typographical error has a word been changed. In a number of the letters deletions of words or sentences will be indicated. These marked omissions were made in order to respect certain private family references or to protect identities of some persons in Guatemala.
David Monahan, Editor Oklahoma City July 1984
So goes life in Guatemala
The Frankie Williams to whom this letter is addressed is a Wichita, Kansas, woman who had befriended the mission at Santiago Atitlan. Casting about for a way to spend a meaningful vacation in 1978, she eventually decided to volunteer for two weeks at the small hospital in Santiago Atitlan. That experience caused her to become the mission's most enthusiastic supporter.
Altogether she made four trips to the mission including a fateful one during the 1980 Christmas season described later in this collection, Stanley Rother wrote this letter after returning to the mission from a vacation in Oklahoma in June 1980.
The "leftist group" mentioned in the fourth paragraph was reportedly an ORPA (Organization of People in Arms) contingent. ORPA was one of at least four guerrilla organizations attempting to overthrow the Guatemalan government at that time. ORPA operated in the Lake Atitlan area in the summer of 1980. A report by Alan Riding of a two-hour ORPA intrusion at San Pedro La Laguna (as the crow flies less than 10 miles from Santiago Atitlan) was carried in the Aug. 24, 1980 issue of the New York Times.
I found things in good shape when I arrived. Like Fr. Leven says, everything seems to go along well while you are gone, but when you are there there are always things popping. Pedro has since left for 2 weeks and accompanied a priest-friend from Solola to Mexico City to pick up his things that he left there in the seminary. He said he would be back the 15th, but Manuel tells me he has a cursillo this weekend that he was supposed to help at here in Atitlan.
Yes, I did get permission to sell the farm, dividing into lots etc. That will be taking a lot of time and effort, but haven't started on it yet. I have permission too to dialogue with the Sisters and they have been here and I made a counter-proposal, but they haven't notified me yet of their decision. We expect them to accept the offer and possibly move in around the first of September. Now that will mean some preparation too, namely equiping a kitchen and dining room for them, doing something to the floors on the second level, closing up more the rear entrance and the side street to make it more secure for the girls. Joe, where are you? But really I don't want to impose on him. If he wants to come, fine.
Really, that business about improving the road to San Lucas is just a pipe dream. But I guess I can dream too. There are still other things that have priority. The new hall and classrooms are still on the drawing boards, and I still have hopes of getting started in this calendar year.
I am sitting here listening to the beautiful cassettes you gave me, overhead is a meeting of campesinos looking for self- protection, the men of the Church are painting the porch blue, it is trying to rain, tourists are coming into the Church to look and then go again, the mornings paper said that someone tried to kill the alcalde of Escuintia yesterday, another University professor was killed, various unidentified and tortured bodies showed up, etc. And so goes the life in Guatemala. It is really something to be living in the midst of all this. There was another priest killed to the North of us in Quiche while I was gone. That makes three since the first of May. One was kidnapped, presumed dead. And what do we do about all this? What can we do, but do our work, keep our heads down, preach the gospel of love and non-violence, etc. We can show people the way, but if they are hell-bent on a collision course with the powers that be, then there is little that my preaching will change if at all. Jude was all excited when I came back and told me to move out of this house, sleep in a different bed every night, etc. But all that just isn't necessary. He has some information that was grossly exaggerated and is jumping to conclusions. I just don't believe it is all that serious. A leftist group did come in one night while I was gone and they seemed to have the sympathy of the people. Jude thinks it will be Indian against Ladino, and I really believe I will be accepted on the side of the Indian. Now don't be too preoccupied, nothing is going to happen. God will take care of His own, if we are in that group. Nothing will happen that isn't supposed to. It is all part of His great plan.
I've had lunch, prepared by Dominga (Martin is on his day off), had a nap, and am back at the typewriter and it is threatening to rain for sure. When I got back a young man brought me his son that had a large sore the size of a dime on the upper lip. I remember about 10 or 11 years ago I found the man in his house on the floor all doubled up and dying from dysentery. I hauled him off to our hospital and he survived. I wanted the boy to have treatment and a possible cure for his problem, so I took him to a private hospital in the City. He is there over two weeks already and I haven't heard yet what it is he has. They say it could be skin TB, a cancer, a spore of some kind etc. After he was there a week, I took his parents to see him and he wouldn't let us leave. He was screaming etc. and the Doctora had to put him to sleep so we could leave. The Dra. says he is more content now with his TV.
That is very kind of you to offer to pay for someone's parcel and help them a bit with their house. We are still a ways from that point as yet. I don't doubt that there will be one or another family that will need it. I will look out for one, and I think my Dad wants to do the same thing too. I have offered a plot out there for the Junior High School if we can get some funds to build. It would be next to the hospital. Some of the professors don't like the idea of putting it out there, but where can they get 10 to 50 thousand for a place here in town?
The Sisters, Marian & Charlotte, are busy. Marian is helping some of the catechists prepare the kiddo's for First Communion, and the rest of the time they are both working on an index of names for a Baptism book that was recently finished. The index has the names in alphabetical order and is a tremendous help when names have to be found. I've done some checking and found out that all the Baptisms from 1901 to 1935 are in the books in Patulul and up to 1953 are in Solola. I'm seriously considering sending someone to copy these out from Patulul and Solola so we will have them all here. I may have told you that we recently got all the Baptism books, marriage records and death records from the archives in Solola and they are here now in our safe. If I remember right, the Baptisms start in the early 1600's. Most of the books are in bad or worse shape, but at least we have them. But I need to find something to keep the silverfish out of them.
As ever, Stan
Notes and identifications:
• "Father (Marvin) Leven" is a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
• (Father) "Pedro" (Bocel) is a full-blooded Cakchiquel Indian, who served as Father Rother's associate pastor from January 26, 1980. He is one of four Cakchiquel who have been ordained Catholic priests.
• "Manuel" Turn was a Cakchiquel Indian lay man hired to work at the mission. He lived at the rectory.
• "The farm" was property purchased by the mission in the 1960s to use as an experimental and model agricultural operation. The permission to sell the farm in small lots or parcels to local Indians was given by the two Oklahoma bishops — Archbishop Charles Salatka of Oklahoma City and Bishop Eusebius Beltran of Tulsa.
• "The Sisters" mentioned in this letter were members of the Missionary Carmelites of St. Teresa described in subsequent letters.
• "Joe" Tinker and his wife, Mary, of Oklahoma City, were volunteers at Santiago Atitlan during the autumnal months of 1979.
• "San Lucas" Tollman is a town on Lake Atitlan about 10 miles by road from Santiago Atitlan.
• An "alcalde" is an administrative and judicial official in towns and villages in Spain or regions under Spanish influence.
• "Escuintia" is a town some 30 miles southwest of Guatemala City.
• "Quiche" is a large Guatemalan department (similar to an American state) which extends from just north of Lake Atitlan some 80 miles to the Mexican border.
• "Jude" Pansini was an American Benedictine monk and anthropologist, at one time a member of the Pastoral team at Santiago Atitlan, who left the priestly ministry and married but continued to work in Guatemalan Indian nutritional programs.
• "Sisters Marian (Wilson) & Charlotte (Rohr)," Precious Blood Sisters of Wichita, Kansas, were summer time volunteers.
• "Patulul" is a town about 20 miles south of Lake Atitlan.
• "Solola" is the See city of the diocese of which the Santiago Atitlan parish is a part. The small city of about 5,000 is also the capital of the Guatemalan Department of Solola.