Blessed Stanley Rother was born in March of 1935 in Oklahoma as the oldest child to parents Franz and Gertrude. He grew up on his family farm with his parents and his four siblings.
As a young adult, he decided to become a priest. After serving as an associate parish priest for five years, Fr. Rother decided to volunteer to serve as a priest in Guatemala. He drove 2,000 miles from his home in Oklahoma to his new parish to serve the Tz’utujil people in Santiago Atitlán.
Once there, Fr. Rother not only performed the spiritual duties expected of a priest, but he also never outgrew his roots as a farmer and enjoyed helping out on the land. He also worked with Rev. Tom Stafford to start a local radio station that focused on literacy.
He learned the Mayan language Tz’utujil so he could celebrate Mass in the community’s native tongue, and translated the Bible into the language of the people he served.
Fr. Rother worked closely with the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Fr. Greg Schaeffer in San Lucas Tolimán while they worked alongside community members to create programming in healthcare, education and other areas.
Fr. Rother’s commitment to his community and his advocacy for education eventually led him to be targeted during the civil war. Death lists were common, and Fr. Rother eventually learned that he was on one. He returned to Oklahoma, but not for long. He went back to Guatemala, despite warnings of danger, to be with his parishioners and to celebrate Holy Week. On July 28, 1981 at 1:30 a.m. while Fr. Rother was sleeping in the rectory, three men broke into his room. Fr. Rother fought to defend himself, but he was killed.
After his death, the people of the Santiago Parish asked to keep Fr. Rother’s heart which remains enshrined in the Church of St. James the Apostle in Santiago (pictured above). Fr. Rother’s family returned his body to Oklahoma for his burial.
In December of 2016, Pope Francis declared Fr. Rother a martyr, making him the first American to receive the designation. On September 23, 2017 he was beatified. Blessed Fr. Rother’s feast day is celebrated each year on July 28th, the anniversary of his death.
We remember Blessed Rother for his courage, conviction and commitment to the people of Guatemala.