Pope Francis has recognized the martyrdom of Father Stanley Rother, a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City who served in Guatemala, making him the first martyr to have been born in the United States….
When Stanley was still in seminary, St. John XXIII asked the Churches of North America to send assistance and establish missions in Central America. Soon after, the dioceses of Oklahoma City and Tulsa established a mission in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.
A few years after he was ordained, Fr. Stanley accepted an invitation to join the mission team, where he would spend the next 13 years of his life….
The beloved Padre Francisco was also known for his kindness, selflessness, joy and attentive presence among his parishioners. Dozens of pictures show giggling children running after Padre Francisco and grabbing his hands, Scaperlanda said.
“It was Father Stanley’s natural disposition to share the labor with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, ‘he was our priest,’” she said.
Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Fr. Stanley remained steadfast and supportive of his people….
“The reality is that we are in danger. But we don’t know when or what form the government will use to further repress the Church…. Given the situation, I am not ready to leave here just yet… But if it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it…. I don’t want to desert these people, and that is what will be said, even after all these years. There is still a lot of good that can be done under the circumstances.”
He ended the letter with what would become his signature quote:
“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”…
The morning of July 28, 1981, three Ladinos, the non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of Guatemala since the 1960s, broke into Fr. Rother’s rectory. They wished to disappear him, but he refused. Not wanting to endanger the others at the parish mission, he struggled but did not call for help. Fifteen minutes and two gunshots later, Father Stanley was dead and the men fled the mission grounds.
You can also watch America editors Sam Sawyer, SJ and Ashley McKinless discuss the recognition of Fr. Stanley Rother’s martyrdom and the expanding definition of modern martyrdom here: