Heart of first martyr from the U.S. kept with his people in Guatemala

Born in a small town in Oklahoma, Stanley Rother grew up on a farm. There, he learned the importance of both physical work and a good prayer life.

After being ordained a priest, Father Stanley joined the diocesan mission team and moved to Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. For 13 years, he served the Tz’utujil people, who are descendants of the Mayans.

"The translation of the New Testament and the Mass," said Nolan Hill of Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine. "And so that was one of those things that he took part in because he knew that it was important that these people that he was serving really needed to be loved by being able to hear the Gospel in their own language."

When Father Stanley arrived in the village in 1968, the country's civil war had already been raging for eight years. Yet, Fr. Stanley and the other priests focused on educating, catechizing and helping the local people in their daily struggles.

"When Blessed Stanley Rother arrived," Hill said, "he saw that there were a lot of human needs that needed to be met. He saw that there was this, not only spiritual need, but then for the spiritual needs to flourish, he also had to do a lot of hands-on actions, where it's like building a hospital, a school, a radio station that broadcasted catechesis."

Nothing was too much for Father Stanley to do to serve the people in Guatemala. For example, he would ride on a motorcycle to be able to bring the Eucharist to people in the remote parts of the region.

His work in the village and defense of the Catholic Church made him a target for the government. His name was placed on a death list. The bishop in Oklahoma called Father Stanley back after the threat increased. But the whole time, Father Stanley felt he needed to return to Santiago Atitlan. He wrote in a letter, “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”

"He knew that if he left that the military would have really no hurdle to jump over to try to get to the people who they wanted to get to," Hill said. "And so he knew that it was something that he had to go back and fight for his people by just loving them."

On July 28, 1981, three men entered Father Stanley's rectory. After a struggle, they killed him.

Father Stanley was beatified in Oklahoma City in 2017. Over 20,000 people from around the world attended the ceremony. He is the first martyr from the United States and the first U.S. born priest to be beatified.

If it is my destiny that I should give my life here, then so be it. A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Sincerely in Christ Jesus, Stanley Rother 

He had the courage to be whatever God called him to be. No matter what that meant.

Father Stanley's body is buried in Oklahoma. But his heart, just as in life, is still in Guatemala with his people.