Cawker City — In the cozy rectory behind SS. Peter and Paul Church sits Father Don McCarthy, with a myriad of items relating to his friend, Father Stanley Rother. “It’s kind of like a shrine in here,” he said, looking around. At the window sits a framed picture of Father Rother with Guatemalean children. He has a box dedicated entirely to correspondence from his seminary chum. “He and I were close friends,” Father McCarthy said. The retired priest will be among the throngs gathered Sept. 23 in the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. to witness the beatification of Father Rother, a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. The beatification begins at 10:30 a.m. and seating is open to the public; no ticket is necessary. Father Rother was gunned down in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. He was considered a martyr by the church in Guatemala, and was formally recognized by Pope Francis as a martyr Dec. 2, 2016. The recognition by the pontiff cleared the way for his beatification.
Originally from Galveston, Texas, Father McCarthy attended seminary in San Antonio. “Stan and I were not in the same class in the seminary, but we got to be good friends, due to working together in the book bindery and visitations at each other’s homes in vacation time,” Father McCarthy said. Father Rother was two years behind him in the seminary. Eventually, Father Rother was asked to leave because of difficulty with Latin. “All of the philosophy and theology textbooks and canon law were all in Latin,” Father McCarthy said. “That was the way things were then.” Father Rother departed during Father McCarthy’s final year of seminary. “There were so many Oklahoma guys in the seminary with us,” he said. “Stanley was from Oklahoma. They were heartbroken when we found out he was asked to leave.” Yet Father Rother didn’t give up on his vocation. Bishop Victor Reed found another seminary in Maryland. “We kept in touch,” Father McCarthy said. “I used to visit in the summertime. I would stay at Stanley’s home and tried to help at farm work, but I wasn’t very good at it. “When I was ordained in 1959, he and his mother came to Galveston for my First Mass. He was thurifer for my First Mass.” In return, Father McCarthy acted as subdeacon for Father Rother’s First Solemn High Mass in 1963.
In 1968, Father Rother went to Santiago Atitlan on assignment from the Diocese of Oklahoma City-Tulsa (which is now the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City). Called “Padre Francisco” and “Padre Aplas,” he helped the locals build a small hospital, school and radio station. Father McCarthy said. He also taught the locals improved methods of farming and fishing. In spite of his difficulties with Latin in his first seminary, Father Rother translated the Mass and several parts of the New Testament into Tz’utujil, the language of his parishioners, Father McCarthy said. “He and I stayed in contact when he went down to Guatemala,” Father McCarthy said. “He was very much a part of the community for years.” The mission was about 10 years old when Father Rother arrived, with a staff of 10, Father McCarthy said. “But gradually over the years, he was the only one left,” Father McCarthy said. The Rother family and his friends knew the continued presence in Guatemala was dangerous. “He knew he was on a death list,” Father McCarthy said. “(His family) encouraged him to stay, but he went back. He always said ‘The shepherd cannot run.’ I was always edified by his attitude. He could have stayed home and been safe, but he said ‘I want to be with my people.’ ”
Bishop Edward Weisenburger serves as the promoter of justice for the cause for canonization for servant of God Father Stanley Rother of Okarche, Okla. The priest was murdered July 28, 1981, while serving at the mission of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala.
As the promoter of justice, his role is to help the Church study and examine the life of Father Rother. The promoter, he said, is there to ask not only the “nice questions” but also to “ensure that all the facts are uncovered in the process and that all questions, including difficult questions, are asked.”
That role has included several trips to the mission in Guatemala.
“It’s always a very moving experience,” said the bishop, “especially to spend some quiet time in the room of the parish rectory that still has the marks of the bullet holes where Father Rother was killed.
“It has been turned into an unofficial chapel where people still slip in to pray.”
Having served as pastor of Father Rother’s home parish in Okarche, the bishop said he got to know members of the Rother family personally.
“When the cause began, I was a former pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Okarche, having served there from 1995-2002,” the bishop said. “Those were seven exceptionally happy years of my life. That parish has produced a host of vocations to priesthood and religious life.
“It should not be surprising that such a vibrant parish would produce vocations and now a potentially canonized saint.”
Last December, Pope Francis declared Father Rother a martyr, clearing the path for his beatification. On March 13, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City received word the beatification will take place Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.
A biography of Father Rother titled “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run,” was published by Our Sunday Visitor in 2015.
On Monday, Aug. 21, many Americans witnessed an extremely rare astronomical phenomenon, a total solar eclipse. The sun appeared to be darkened for a time as the moon passed between the earth and the sun, casting its shadow over much of the earth’s surface. The last time such an event occurred across the whole of the contiguous United States was in 1918. Thousands of people traveled great distances to experience this extraordinary phenomenon.
Perhaps it was an actual solar eclipse coinciding with the moment of Our Lord’s death that caused the darkness described in St. Matthew’s Gospel: “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon” (Mt 27:45). An eclipse of the sun is certainly an appropriate cosmic sign for the very moment when sin and death seemed to triumph over light and life. For three days, hope was eclipsed by despair. The Resurrection, however, proclaims Christ’s ultimate victory: the victory of life over death; the triumph of Divine Mercy over human sinfulness. Jesus Christ is the light of the world and this “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:5).
On July 28, 1981, it must have seemed as if darkness had triumphed in the village of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. That morning, thousands of grieving parishioners gathered in the plaza in front of the massive colonial church as word spread that their beloved shepherd, Padre A’Plas had been killed. During the night, intruders had broken into the rectory and murdered Father Stanley Rother, the shepherd who didn’t run.
Hope seemed to have been vanquished by violence, love eclipsed by hatred. But, life and hope were indeed victorious. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church” as Tertullian wrote in the 2nd century. Father Stanley Rother’s witness of fidelity and pastoral charity have inspired countless Christians and non-Christians in Guatemala, Oklahoma and throughout the United States. Today, the Church in Santiago Atitlan is flourishing. The light of faith continues to shine brightly and the darkness has not overcome it.
The Catholic Church has officially recognized the Venerable Servant of God Stanley Francis Rother as a martyr for the faith. He is the first martyr from the United States, and on Sept. 23 will become the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified. In Oklahoma, this event is even rarer than a total solar eclipse! Are you going?
I invite all who read this to come to the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 10 a.m. to participate in the Mass and Rite of Beatification for Father Stanley Francis Rother. It will be a beautiful and historic event, but more importantly it will be the occasion for an abundant outpouring of grace and mercy upon our Church, our families and community and our nation. There will be ample parking and access. (And I promise that traffic will be far less difficult to manage than for a Garth Brooks concert.)
Come and see!
By The Register
Salina — The Register, the newspaper of the Diocese of Salina, is delivered to all registered parishioners.
To be able to continue to do that, however, requires some help on their part.
Today’s issue includes a donation envelope. Every household is asked each year to donate $25, roughly the cost of printing and mailing the newspaper.
Until three years ago, The Register was mailed only to those who subscribed. In January 2014, the publication model changed, and the newspaper was sent to every household registered with a parish in the diocese.
To accommodate the increased printing and mailing costs — from 5,500 to about 17,500 copies — the decision was made to reduce publication from weekly to twice monthly — on the second and fourth Fridays.
Instead of selling subscriptions, The Register would seek a $25 donation from each family to underwrite the additional costs.
In addition to each household receiving the newspaper, each Register edition also is available online at salinadiocese.org/the-register.