Stanley Francis Rother (March 27,1935-July 28, 1981) was born in Okarche, OK, the first born child of Franz and Gertrude Rother. Stanley was raised on the family farm just a couple miles west of Okarche. As a child, he set about learning and using the skills necessary to become the farmer he expected to be.
His family were devout members of Holy Trinity Catholic Parish in Okarche. Stanley completed his elementary and high school years at the local Catholic school.
Nearing his high school graduation, he surprised his parents and his sister, Betty Maye (who would become Sister Marita of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ) by telling them he wanted to become a priest, instead of remaining on the farm.
In the fall of 1953, this ordinary farmer began college at Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, Texas. While there, he put his farm skills to work performing service work around the campus. However, his academics suffered and he was unable to master the Latin language, causing him to be asked leave Assumption Seminary in the early days of 1959. Bishop Victor Reed decided on the very day he returned to Oklahoma City that the diocese would find another seminary for Stanley to attend.
On May 25, 1963, Stanley Francis Rother was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Victor J. Reed. His first assignment, bringing him some derision from brother priests, was to St. William’s Church in Durant, OK. Bishop Reed, recognizing his God-given charisms, asked him to lead the construction of buildings for a new property the diocese had purchased near Durant.
Just 5 years after his ordination Fr. Rother was assigned to the mission of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. He would give the rest of his years, indeed his whole heart, to the people. Padre Francisco came to love the Tz’utujil Indians.
During the hiatus between schools, Stanley’s construction talents were used assisting with the completion of the new St Francis DeSales seminary, which is now the office and meeting center for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
In the fall of 1959, Stanley entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland. He succeeded there academically, partly due to the aid of other students who had translated some Latin books into English. He continued to perform service work similar to what he contributed at Assumption, either supporting the natural beauty of the campus by doing such things as raking leaves, planting, or other gardening. He would also be found serving his fellows by performing mundane duties like doing dishes, or fixing equipment. It was his nature to care for nature.
His struggle with Latin did not find its equal in Guatemala. In place of an intellectual demand for learning, his heart for his flock led him to learn and speak both Spanish and Tz’utujil. He contributed to the development of the written language, and to the translation of the New Testament into the native tongue. He taught lectors to read at the mass in Tz’utujil.
It was being present that mattered most to him - and to his flock. He knew that ordinary lives, lived with Christ, always achieve the extraordinary. As would be expected, he used his skills from the farm to advance the culture of the people of Santiago Atitlan, helping them to improve their farming, construction, and renovation of buildings. He even built a hospital.
When threatened with death in 1981, he returned to Oklahoma for a brief time, but said the shepherd couldn’t run, that he must return to his people. The final extraordinary outcome of his human life was to accept death, shot for his faith in God and love for his people on July 28, 1981.
This quiet, peaceful, ordinary man was declared the first American born martyr by Pope Francis, and he will be beatified on September 23, 2017, in Oklahoma City, OK. He has been chosen as our patron because like him we are a group of ordinary guys who long to be messengers of Christ in an extraordinary way.
Scaperlanda, Maria Ruiz, The Shepherd who didn't Run
(Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2015)