Gretchen Siegel/CNA Nation
Father Rother was assassinated on July 28, 1981.
Not much is popularly known about Blessed Stanley Rother, the small-town Oklahoma native who was declared “Blessed” in September 2017 by the Catholic Church.
One of the newest blesseds, he became a priest and missionary at a parish in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. He served the local Tz’utujil people at the time of the Guatemalan civil war, where he was on a hit list and eventually assassinated on July 28, 1981.
Here are five things you need to know about this American on the path to sainthood who died 40 years ago today.
Blessed Stanley Rother is the first American-born martyr.
Aside from the North American Martyrs, such as Isaac Jogues, Blessed Stanley Rother is the only martyr associated with the United States. And he is the only martyr born in the United States.
He translated the New Testament into the Tz'utujil language.
Stanley struggled academically in the seminary, especially with Latin, and eventually switched seminaries. Despite his seminary struggles, he learned both Spanish and Tz’utujil while in Guatemala, where his desire to serve led him to learn the languages to connect with the people he was serving.
He was a jack of all trades.
Though not academically gifted, Blessed Stanley possessed skills as an electrician, plumber and farmer, which he used to aid his people by repairing machinery and helping them implement new techniques to better their farming. He also built many buildings for the community, such as a school, hospital and a Catholic radio station.
Blessed Stanley Rother came back to his Guatemalan parish, saying, “A shepherd cannot run from his flock.”
Blessed Stanley Rother faced danger to his life in Guatemala, since his name was on a hit list. For safety, he returned to Oklahoma, where he said these words. He went back to Guatemala for Holy Week to serve his parishioners despite the danger. Less than four months later, he was killed.
Blessed Stanley Rother’s Tz’utujil parishioners have his heart.
“At the parish, his presence is everywhere — his heart and his blood are in the church; the room that he was killed in has been converted into a chapel in his honor; the parochial school has been named after him. Blessed Rother is well-known all over town,” said Father Josh Mayer, a priest of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, following a visit to Guatemala in 2019 for the feast day of Blessed Stanley.
After Blessed Stanley’s martyrdom, his body was returned to Oklahoma for burial. His Guatemalan parishioners enshrined his heart, however, since they wished to keep a part of their beloved priest with them.
Gretchen Siegel is a summer intern with Catholic News Agency.