Father Stanley Rother was “an ordinary priest, but in some ways he wasn’t ordinary because he flunked out of the first seminary he was at,” explains Fr. Albert Haase, Franciscan priest, author, and regular contributor to The Inner Life®. “So he wasn’t the brightest and part of his struggles—which is really fascinating when you find out about the end of his life—was he just couldn’t master the Latin language. But thankfully, Archbishop Reed of Oklahoma City managed to find another seminary that would accept him.”
Fr. Rother was ordained in 1963, and five years later he went to Guatemala to serve in the missions there. “He ministers to an indigenous group of people called the Tzutujil people who have an unwritten language. What’s amazing for Blessed Stanley, who could not master the Latin language, he ends up learning Spanish and this Tzutujil language!”
It was a dangerous time to be a Catholic in Guatemala. “Blessed Stanley started a radio station and the person who ran his Catholic radio station was assassinated by the government, then his catechists who helped him … they begin to disappear and found murdered. And then, Blessed Stanley finds out that his name has been put on a hit list. And that’s when the bishop of Guatemala says to him, ‘You’ve got to go home,’” said Fr. Albert.
After returning home, Fr. Rother felt guilty and longed to return to Guatemala to be with his people. Fr. Rother’s brother, Tom, told Fr. Albert Haase that he was angry when he found out about his brother going back to Guatemala, and he said to him, “Why on earth are you going back? You’re going to be killed.”
“And Blessed Stanley said, ‘A Shepherd can never leave his flock.’ So he goes back and says to the people, I have come to be with you and die with you.’ And on the morning of July 28, 1981, two men show up at the rectory just after midnight. They demand to see him and Blessed Stanley … there is a fight, they shot him twice and he dies,” explains Fr. Albert.
“The American embassy is informed and they come to get his remains, and the people to whom Blessed Stanley ministered, they refused to release his body because they said, he is our priest. And so a deal was struck where the people received his heart and his heart is now in a shrine under the altar where he used to celebrate Mass, and the rest of his body was sent back to Oklahoma City.”
His story is moving and is a beautiful example of sacrificial love. “This is what a priest is meant to be. So oftentimes, we priests … forget that our primary role is to be a shepherd to our flock. And this is what shone so strongly in the life of Blessed Stanley Rother.”
Blessed Stanley Rother was beatified on April 23, 2017, in Oklahoma City. 20,000 people attended the beatification ceremony and 5,000 more watched from outside. “He’s going to be canonized—he just needs to cough up one more miracle for us,” Fr. Albert laughed.