Special to the Register by Father Kenneth Borowiak
LINCOLN (SNR) – A first-class relic of Blessed Stanley Rother was on display at St. Peter Church in Lincoln April 16.
Father Stanley Rother, a farm boy from Okarche, Okla., was a priest who gave his life in witness as a martyr to the people whom he served in Guatemala.
As a young man Rother was a typical child. Raised on a farm, working hard, doing his chores, attended Catholic school, played sports, was an altar server and enjoyed the activities associated with growing up in a small town. After high school, he discerned that God was calling him to be a priest.
Father Rother eventually became a missionary in Guatemala and was martyred for his faith in 1981. Because of the affection and veneration the people of Santiago Atitlan parish showed for their parish priest, they requested that Father Rother’s heart be kept in Guatemala, where it resides today.
In addition to his heart, several other first-class relics of Father Rother are available for veneration around the world. Several drops of his blood – taken from his clothing the night in which he was martyred – are part of a reliquary at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md.
Christian Schwenka, a first-year theologian for the Diocese of Lincoln, brought that relic to Lincoln for veneration during Holy Week. The relic was on display at St. Peter Church April 16. It was also on display during a Mass for healing for Christian’s brother-in-law Matt Brass, who is battling cancer.
Students of St. Michael School in Lincoln also had the opportunity to venerate the relic April 17.
Rother studied at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Maryland, where many priests of the Diocese of Lincoln have studied. He was ordained a priest in 1963 for what was then the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Rother heeded that call and asked permission to help establish a missionary in Guatemala and served in his diocese’s mission parish, Santiago Atitlan, for 13 years.
Father Rother ministered to his parishioners in their homes: eating with them, visiting the sick and aiding them with medical problems. He helped build a farmer’s co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, for catechesis. He helped parishioners in the fields, taught them to raise different crops, and built an irrigation system.
During his time in the mission, a protracted civil war broke out in Guatemala between militarist government forces and guerrillas. When the violence came to the highlands and Santiago Atitlan, catechists began to disappear, death lists began to circulate in the towns, and people slept in the church for protection.
Eventually, Father Rother’s name appeared on a death list. For his safety and that of his assistant pastor, his bishop asked Father Rother to return home to Oklahoma. He didn’t stay long. He was determined to give his life completely to his people, saying “the shepherd cannot run.”
Within a few months of his return, three men entered the rectory around 1 a.m. on July 28, 1981, fought with Father Rother and executed him. He was 46.
Since Rother’s death, the people of Santiago Atitlan, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa have believed he died as a martyr for the faith. In 2007 his cause for canonization was opened.
On Sept. 23, 2017, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, celebrated the Rite of Beatification for Blessed Stanley Rother at a Beatification Mass in downtown Oklahoma City.
Supplemental information for this article was taken from the web site of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma.
Related item: Bishop Conley's column on Bl. Stanley Rother