|Father Stanley Rother, left,|
visits with Father Pedro Bocel in Guatemala in 1981.
As you may or may not know, I write a monthly column for Magnificat, the Catholic magazine of daily liturgy, reflection, and prayers.
The column is called "Credible Witnesses" The person has to have done something kind of sublime and noteworthy, can not yet have been canonized, and has to be dead.
For my (upcoming) April column, I got to write on Servant of God Fr. Stanley Rother.
Here's how the piece begins:
"Servant of God Fr. Stanley Rother (1935-1981), missionary to Guatemala during a brutal civil war, refused to leave his parishioners. A paramilitary death squad murdered him.
As a boy, Stanley tilled the fields of his father’s farm in Okarche, Oklahoma. He flunked a semester at the seminary, felled by Latin"...
That was one thing I loved about Fr. Stanley. He was an "ordinary" farmboy. He didn't develop some new, exciting strand of theology. Nothing about him, from the outside, seemed particularly to have marked him for greatness.
Which brings me to the real point of the post:
My friend María Ruiz Scaperlanda has written a whole book on the good Fr. Stanley. Just out last December from Our Sunday Visitor, it's called The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma.
An Oklahoma daughter herself, María interviewed family members, friends, parish priests, bishops to piece together a full and vibrant picture of Fr. Stanley's life and death.
As María observes: "How a 46-year-old priest from a small German farming community came to live and die in [a] remote, ancient Guatemalan village is a story full of wonder and God's providence."
It's a gripping story that you should read for yourself: the story of how this Oklahoma farmboy, even after his name was put on several death lists, refused to leave the Guatemalan peasants he loved and served.
During this season of Lent, one detail grips me most.
At one point, in January, 1981, Fr. Stanley returned briefly to Oklahoma. He was listless, restless, despondent. Finally he asked permission of his bishop to return, knowing full well that he would probably be killed. During that time, he spoke to a friend, Fr. Don Moore. Fr. Don later related: "Stan said to me, 'Everybody's told me I shouldn't go back but you haven't told me.' I told him that I didn't want him to return, but that I would support what [he decided to do]."
"In response, Father Stanley said to his friend, "I promised the people I would be back for Holy Week and I'm going to be there.' "
I promised the people I would be back for Holy Week.
He returned to Guatemala in April. That July he was assassinated.