The First American Born Martyr


Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 on a farm Oklahoma and became the oldest of four children. He was a small town boy through and through and while in high school, he began discerning his call to the priesthood. When he first entered, he struggled with his studies (particularly learning Latin) and had to drop out because of them. He was soon picked up by Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD and was then ordained at age twenty-eight. 

He ended up joining his diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, right in the middle of the country's civil war when the culture was excessively hostile to the Church. Despite this, Fr. Stan connected with the people immediately. He served there for thirteen years, championing for social justice, specifically for the native tribe of the Tz'utujil, descendants of the Mayans and those he intimately served. Though his struggle with learning languages is what caused him to flunk seminary, he mastered Spanish and the native language of the Tz'utujil and trainslated the New Testament.

Surrounded by extreme poverty and living in a one room hut, Fr. Stan was a long ways away from Oklahoma. But he was all in. He was a true shepherd to his flock: visiting their homes, eating with them, farming with them. All of this despite the violent civil war that went on for years around them. Guerrilla warfare was rampant and the Catholic Church was caught in the middle with thousands of baptized killed. Soon the violence flowed from the cities into the highlands and people sought shelter in the churches, often sleeping there.

The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.
— Fr. Stanley Rother

What happens next is jarring. Fr. Stan's name appeared on the death list when a parishioner from Oklahoma mails the Guatemalan embassy, claiming that Fr. Stan was advocating for the overthrow of the government. For his safety, he returned to America but couldn't stay long. His heart remained with his people, and he knew that returning would mean certain death.

Within a few months of his return, three men entered the rectory around 1a.m on July 28, 1981 and executed him. He was forty-six years old. But even in death his heart remained with his people, enshrined in Guatemala to this day.

Nearly thirty years after his death, his cause for canonization opened in 2007. He was declared a martyr in 2015 and beatified in 2017.