ENID — Efforts to recognize the Rev. Stanley Rother as Oklahoma’s first saint are gaining momentum.
Oklahoma and Arkansas Catholics are making a pilgrimage this week to Santiago Atitlán to observe the 35th anniversary of Rother’s assassination.
Rother, an Okarche native and farmer, served parishes in Tulsa, Durant and Oklahoma City before going to Guatemala as a missionary for the impoverished, indigenous Mayan people called the Tzutujil.
Three gunmen assumed to be a right-wing death squad assassinated Rother on July 28, 1981, in the parish rectory, but the unknown killers have never been brought to justice. The Tzutujil kept the priest’s heart in a half-gallon jar while his body was flown for burial in his native Oklahoma.
When his vital organ was relocated to a more prominent location a decade after his martyrdom, the blood had not congealed, according to eyewitnesses of the excavation reported in a 2006 Oklahoma Gazette cover story.
On the 35th anniversary of Rother’s death, the public is invited to a memorial mass at 5 p.m. Saturday at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 211 W. Missouri, in Okarche. A Knights of Columbus carnival will follow from 6 to 10 p.m.
Celebrants will include the Most Rev. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran and fellow clergy.
“It was this faithful teaching and living the word of God which made him a target of hatred and evil,” Beltran, then-archbishop of the OKC Archdiocese, told the Gazette in 2010.
“When (he) was brutally attacked, beaten and shot dead, the natives of Santiago Atitlán and the Catholic people of Oklahoma were shocked and saddened. But immediately, the Tzutujil people enshrined his heart in the parish church because they believed Father Rother was a holy man. They believed he was a saint with God who would now be their intercessor.”
The Rev. Thomas McSherry, who succeeded Rother in Guatemala, called his predecessor an inspiration for giving selflessly, fighting for justice and serving as a witness to the impoverished.
“He was a priest, a pastor, an electrician, a plumber and a linguist,” McSherry told the Gazette. “He helped get the New Testament translated into (the) Tzutujil (language).”
In 2009, Guatemala native Diego Colombi chronicled Rother’s story in the documentary “A’plas,” which means “Francis” in Tzutujil.
In 2015, Rother was recognized formally as a martyr by a special Theological Commission at the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome. This recognition marks the final stage before canonization as a saint.
A new book, “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma,” was released last December by author María Ruiz Scaperlanda.
Recently, Rother’s story was told in a special segment by Kelly Ogle in June on KWTV News 9. Stanley’s life is depicted in a stained-glass window displayed at St. Eugene parish in Oklahoma City.
In 2014, an Arkansas seminarian told of giving Pope Francis a Rother prayer card.
“(Pope Francis) showed great interest in it,” Stephen Gadberry wrote in the Arkansas Catholic. “He skimmed over it and asked about the priest, allowing me some time to explain his story.”
The Rother Guild also was formed to help spread Rother’s inspirational message and his cause worldwide. When Rother is canonized, everyone will know his story.