Blessed Rother’s influence is still felt in the parish and in the town, especially since relics of the priest are kept in the church for the people to venerate.
“The love that the people of Santiago Atitlan have for Blessed Stanley is very apparent,” Father Josh Mayer, a priest of the Diocese of Gallup who was also visiting Guatemala for the feast day, told CNA.
“At the parish, his presence is everywhere – his heart and his blood are in the Church, the room that he was killed in has been converted into a chapel in his honor, the parochial school has been named after him. Blessed Rother is well-known all over town.”
Mayer is pastor of two parishes in the Diocese of Gallup – St. Mary in Bloomfield and St. Rose of Lima in Blanco – which have a partnership with a Guatemalan school called Escuela Integrada. Father Mayer said the vibrancy of the parish where Rother served is an inspiration to him, especially the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration, which he says is always full when he visits.
“The Catholic community in Santiago Atitlan is incredibly vibrant and active. I’ve never seen as many altar servers as they have at each Sunday Mass in Santiago – it’s incredible,” he said.
“The Eucharistic Ministers and lectors and catechists and other ministry groups are all incredibly well organized and everyone takes their roles very seriously. The people are very proud of what they do for Jesus and His Church. Every time I visit the parish of Santiago Apostol, I’m inspired with a vision of what we could do at our parishes back home.”
Despite the vibrancy of the parish, Mayer reflected that Guatemala is a “land of extremes”: a beautiful, rich environment populated by people notable for their kindness, warmth, and sense of community and family life. At the same time, material poverty, malnutrition, envy, extortion, and abuse are common.
“And yet, in the midst of these profound difficulties, the Guatemalan people have a profound sense of hope and joy,” he said.
“Their faith, hope and love shine forth in a way that really is miraculous...there are many Catholic and Christian groups that work, in ways big and small, to help our brothers and sisters in Guatemala.”
In the early morning hours of July 28, 1981, three ski-masked men broke into the rectory of the mission where Rother was living. The men were Ladinos— non-indigenous men who had been fighting the native people and rural poor of the country since the 1960s.
The men attempted to kidnap Rother at gunpoint, but he refused and resisted, struggling but refusing to call for help so as not to endanger the others in the parish mission. Within fifteen minutes, the men had shot the priest twice and fled.
“What Blessed Rother did on the night of July 28, 1981, wasn’t essentially different from what he was already in the habit of doing – pouring his life out for the people that Jesus had called him to serve,” Mayer reflected.
“He died well because he lived well, for God and for the flock he was given. It’s a great inspiration and a deep challenge: if you want to die as a martyr, if you want to die like Jesus, don’t wait for some terrible opportunity to come to you. Pour your life out, now, for God and for the people that He’s put in your life, and then you will be ready if the ultimate sacrifice is demanded of you.”
Path to sainthood
The Oklahoma City archdiocese opened Rother’s cause for canonization in 2007.
Pope Francis recognized Rother as a martyr in 2016. He is the first martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified, the archdiocese says.
The Rite of Beatification took place Sept. 23, 2017, in downtown Oklahoma City with more than 20,000 people from around the world in attendance.
Rother is a well-known figure in the Oklahoma City archdiocese and throughout the state. Last week, Governor Kevin Stitt proclaimed July 28 Blessed Stanley Rother Day in Oklahoma. The day coincides with Rother’s feast feast day, the 38th anniversary of his martyrdom.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City is in the final stages of design of a 2,000-seat shrine church, museum, and campus in his honor, to be located in south Oklahoma City, according to the archdiocese website.
"Blessed Stanley is really, in my estimation, kind of an everyman's saint. There's something about him that everyone can relate to,” Coakley reflected.
“He's very human, he struggled to get through seminary, he worked hard to get through seminary...he applied all that God had given him, developed those skills and talents, and everything came in handy when he found himself at the mission.”
“Family, community, parish life were all very important to him growing up, and so he embedded himself in the parish in Guatemala among the families that he served. He became a part of each family. So I think his dedication, his availability, his determination, his willingness to roll up his sleeves and work hard, he didn't take himself too seriously...He was courageous when things got difficult, he knew what he was facing but he chose to remain there and stay with his people, and that's what cost him his life— his love for his people and his love for the gospel, and his desire to be faithful to the end."