Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FIRST USA BORN MARTYR



FATHER STANLEY ROTHER, a native of Oklahoma who was killed while serving as a missionary in Guatemala in 1981, will be beatified in September.

Father Rother’s martyrdom was formally recognized by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints last December. His beatification has now been scheduled for September 23, to take place in Oklahoma City.

While serving in a parish in Guatemala, Father Rother acknowledged that the nation’s civil war made his post dangerous. “But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it,” he wrote. “I don’t want to desert these people.” He was gunned down on July 28, 1981.

Stanley Rother was born on March 27, 1935, the son of Franz and Gertrude Rother, who had a farm near OkarcheOklahoma. He grew up to be a strong, young man, adept at the many tasks required on the farm. Nonetheless, after completing high school, he declared his calling to the priesthood. To prepare for this, he was sent to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. His talents gained working on the farm, however, left him with so many duties at the seminary that his studies suffered. After nearly six years, the seminary staff advised him to withdraw.

After consultation with his bishopVictor Reed, Stanley then attended Mount St. Mary's Seminary in EmmitsburgMaryland, from which he graduated in 1963. He was ordained by Reed as a priest of the Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa (now the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City) on May 25 of that same year. He then served as an associate pastor in various parishes around Oklahoma. In 1968, at his own request, he was assigned to the mission of the archdiocese to the Tz'utujil people located in Santiago Atitlán, in the rural highlands of southwest Guatemala.

So that he could be in closer touch with his congregation, Father Stanley worked to learn Spanish and the Tzutuhil language, an unwritten, indigenous language previously recorded by an earlier missionary, Ramón Carlín. He went to live with a native family for a while to get a better grasp of practical conversation, and worked with the locals to show them how to read and write. He supported a radio station located on the mission property which transmitted daily lessons in language and mathematics. He served in Santiago Atitlán for 13 years. During that time, in addition to his pastoral duties, he translated the New Testament into Tz'utujil and began the regular celebration of the Mass in that same tongue.
He also founded a small hospital to serve the community, which was located in Panabaj. The "Hospitalito" and the neighborhood of Panabaj were buried in the mudslides that followed Hurricane Stan in October 2005. While residing in a temporary building, construction of a permanent facility began on November 10, 2008. The "Hospitalito" re-opened during the dedication of the first floor on November 19, 2010, and now plays a vital role in the healthcare of the Lake Atitlán community.
Within the last year of his life, Father Stanley saw the radio station smashed and its director murdered. His catechists and parishioners would disappear and later be found dead, their bodies showing signs of having been beaten and tortured.


In early 1981 he was warned that his name was on a death list and that he should leave Guatemala.  He returned to Oklahoma in January 1981, but asked for permission to return. He returned to Santiago Atitlán in April. On the morning of July 28, gunmen broke into the rectory of his church and shot him twice in the head after a brief struggle. The killers forced a gardener to lead them to the bedroom of the "red-bearded Oklahoma-born missionary". He was one of 10 priests murdered in Guatemala that year.
Father Stanley’s body was flown back to Oklahoma City and was buried in his home town of Okarche, Oklahoma. At the request of his former Tzutuhil parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served.

In the room where Father Stanley Rother was murdered, the following poem was placed:

Unbroken
For Padre A'plas from his people
Your days clasped to our days, one by one,
had chained you tight. You wouldn't cut and run.
Bound by your affection, and our trust,
you had no other world but here with us.
Long days, hard days, tight-linked down the years,
nights sharing plans and other people's tears.
Hosts lifted high against a rusting roof,
you fed us God.
How could we set you loose?
Torn from flesh, your shackled heart remains.
Compelled we sent your bones.
We kept the chain.

R.P.G

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