In 2017, thousands of people from around the world flocked to Oklahoma City to celebrate the beatification of the first U.S. born martyr, Father Stanley Rother. He was killed in a small town in Guatemala for defending the rights of his parishioners against the political group at that time.
"So at that time, Archbishop Coakley said wow, there's a really beautiful devotion to Blessed Stanley in this area," said Leif Arvidson, executive director of the Rother Shrine. "And people came from all over—from Minnesota and from very far away on pilgrimages for that beatification. So he thought that it would be an appropriate time to found a shrine in honor of Blessed Stanley."
The Rother Shrine is nearly complete. It will include a church, pilgrim center, museum and gift shop. Arvidson says the church is in the Spanish mission or colonial style, which is a nod to Blessed Stanley's love for the Guatemalan people.
"We'll honor them in a special way also in the museum," he said. "So in the museum, you'll learn about Father Stanley's days as a boy on the farm and then about his seminary days. And then the next area in the museum, people will be able to learn about Guatemalan culture, see pictures of beautiful Santiago Atitlan area, and we'll have information about the food that the Guatemalans eat, the clothing they wear and how they weave the clothing, the songs they sing."
As his beatification ceremony revealed, Blessed Father Stanley Rother is loved not only in Oklahoma but around the world. Though the Catholic community in Oklahoma makes up only 8% of the population, Arvidson believes the shrine will be a sign of the minority's faith.
"Just a major Catholic witness that's very visible to the population here in Oklahoma and honoring one of Oklahoma's own also," Arvidson said. "A person that all Oklahomans can be proud of, not only Catholics but from other communities too."
Arvidson believes the shrine will serve as a pilgrimage site for people across the United States and even around the world. The bishop of Guatemala City and Blessed Stanley's brother and sister will be among the attendees.
The Rother Shrine is being built in the heart of Oklahoma City. And on February 17, it will be dedicated, and pilgrims from around the world will have the opportunity to visit the shrine dedicated to the United States' first martyr.