Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma, volunteered in 1968 to serve in his diocese’s mission to Santiago Atitlán, a picturesque Indian town in Guatemala. After mastering the Mayan dialect of the Tzutuhil Indians, Rother won their trust and respect by his complete dedication to the needs of the community. Aside from the overwhelming demands of his pastoral work, Rother could often be found wielding a hoe in a farmer’s cornfield or performing any number of unseen acts of friendship. For his part, Rother felt so inspired by the faith of the Tzutuhil people that he could not imagine a life apart from them.
By the 1980s, simmering resentment against social injustice erupted in open resistance, provoking in turn a massive wave of government repression. The violence drew ever closer to Santiago Atitlán. In January 1981, after his name appeared on a death list, Rother agreed to leave the country and return to Oklahoma. But he could not stand to be so far from his flock. By Holy Week he had returned. On July 28, masked men slipped into the parish rectory and tried to kidnap him. Knowing this would mean certain torture and death he put up a fight. He was heard to cry, “Kill me here!” His killers complied.
After the funeral Mass, Rother’s body was returned to Oklahoma for burial. But his family agreed to the request of his parish and allowed his heart to be interred in the church of Santiago Atitlán. Following a Vatican decree that named him a martyr, Rother was beatified in 2017.
“Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people.” —Blessed Stanley Rother