July 28, 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Oklahoma priest Fr. Stanley Francis Rother.
A missionary priest, Fr. Rother was the pastor of the Parroquia de Santiago, in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala when he was killed by men thought to be paramilitary hit-men of the government.
Below are links to where you can find the whole story, so I won’t recount it here.
I first learned about Fr. Rother in March 2000 when I accompanied a group of Newman Center students from the University of Tulsa on a spring break trip to Santiago Atitlan.
The Dioceses of Oklahoma operated the parish in Santiago Atitlan as “Micatokla,” the Mision Catolica de Oklahoma, so it was a natural place for us to visit. Through that visit and a dozen more, I came to admire Fr. Rother greatly and to feel a personal connection to him as a missionary.
The room where Fr. Rother was murdered, at one time a bedroom in the rectory, has been converted into a chapel and a memorial for him. Through the years, the students and I have prayed there, attended Mass, and used it for quiet meditation, mere inches from the blood-stained walls and bullet-ridden floor.
That probably sounds a bit macabre, but it really isn’t. Because of Fr. Rother’s example of serving the people and defending them from the dangers of the time, the Church has deemed it worthy to open a cause for sainthood for Fr. Rother. Someday I hope to hear that he has been declared Venerable or even Blessed.
Honestly, despite the tragedy that occurred in this room, it is one of the most peaceful and prayerful places in parish complex.
My good friend Mark Steichen and I, along with a contingent of other Oklahomans, attended the 25th anniversary observances in 2006. It was an incredible experience, and proved to us the love and respect the people there have for Fr. Rother.
We were staying at a small office building 2 blocks from the parish, sleeping on the floor and cooking our own meals in a small kitchen. At midnight on July 28th, we could hear singing coming from the church and from the rooftop of our building we saw that the church was open.
Late a night, dozens of people where in the church praying before the memorial to Fr. Rother built near the main entrance. Catechists had gathered young and old around them and were teaching them the story of Fr. Rother, about his work with the people and his work for justice.
There is no doubt in the minds of the people there that Fr. Rother is a saint.
I understand that a large contingent from Oklahoma, as well as several bishops, are in Guatemala this week for this anniversary. My heart is with them. I would have loved to be there.
Note: The people of Santiago Atitlan are members of the T’zutujil Maya and speak their own distinct dialect. There is no equivalent name for Stanley, so they called him Padre Francisco (in Spanish) or Padre A’plas (the T’zutujil equivalent).
Here are a few links. Spend a few moments learning about this faithful priest, loyal Oklahoman, and Servant of God.
There are better videos around, but this is the only one I could find online.