On this day 41 years ago, the first martyr from the United States gave his life for his faith.
Although Fr. Rother lost his life in Guatemala, he was born in the small town of Okarche, Oklahoma. He grew up on his family farm, played on his school’s sports teams, and served at his local parish as an altar server. It was an ordinary American childhood.
However, his vocational calling was anything but ordinary.
After high school graduation, while his friends set off to college or to their careers, Stanley entered the seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 25th, 1963. Fr. Rother returned back home to Oklahoma where he served as an associate pastor for five years.
But he wasn’t home for long before he felt the Lord calling him elsewhere, somewhere far from the Oklahoma farmland he was so familiar with. Fr. Rother sought and received permission to join the staff at his diocese’s mission in Guatemala.
Without knowing the language or the culture, Fr. Rother obediently followed the Lord’s calling to a small impoverished community in Santiago Atitlan. Surprisingly to Fr. Rother, who struggled with Latin throughout seminary, Spanish came easily to him and he was quickly immersed in the community, serving wholeheartedly and with deep love for his new flock.
He regularly ministered to his parishioners in their homes, eating with them, visiting the sick, and aiding them with medical issues. This Oklahoma boy even put his farming skills to use and helped in the fields, diversifying the crops and building an irrigation system.
In the midst of Fr. Rother’s service, a civil war broke out in Guatemala between several guerrilla groups and Guatemala’s militarized government. This war impacted everyone in Santiago Atitlan but it especially affected local Catholics, who were dangerously in the center of this bloody conflict.
Thousands of Guatemalan Catholics were tragically killed. The Church, despite constant threats, courageously continued to educate and catechize. Eventually, Fr. Rother’s name appeared on a list of targeted individuals. For his safety, he was asked to return home to Oklahoma.
Yet, facing the life-threatening reality of his situation, Fr. Rother insisted that “the shepherd cannot run” and was determined to return to his parishioners.
Merely a few months into his brave return to Guatemala, Fr. Rother’s rectory was invaded. He was threatened and executed for his faith and service on July 28th, 1981.
On December 1st, 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Fr. Rother as a martyr, making him the first U.S.-born martyr. He also became the first U.S.-born priest to hold the title of “Blessed” when he was beatified on September 23rd, 2017.
We need Blessed Stanley Rother’s courage more than ever as we witness to Christ in this world. Read more about his incredible story in The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma. You’ll be inspired and invigorated by his tremendous example of faith, courage, and totally self-donating love. Get your copy today at The Catholic Company!