My cousin the martyr: meet Blessed Stanley Rother's large family

Blessed Stanley Rother tapestry at Beatification Mass in Oklahoma City Sept. 23, 2017. Credit:Mary Rezac/CNA
Blessed Stanley Rother tapestry at Beatification Mass in Oklahoma City Sept. 23, 2017. Credit:Mary Rezac/CNA

.- They came from Illinois and they came from Wisconsin. They came from Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.

They came from Minnesota--three or four buses worth. At least 16 cars made the drive down from Nebraska.

The many, many, first, second and third cousins of Father Stanley Rother descended on Oklahoma City like the Boomers of old descended on the Oklahoma plains when there was free land for the claiming. But this time, they came to watch one of their own become “Blessed” in the eyes of the Church.

Fr. Stanley was born in 1935, and grew up with his parents and four siblings in the rural farming town of Okarche, Okla. He became a priest in 1963 and was martyred in 1981 in Guatemala at the age of 46, after serving as a missionary there for 13 years.

He was beatified on Sept. 23 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. His two surviving siblings, Sister Marita and Tom Rother, as well as hundreds of extended relatives, were in attendance at the Mass, along with 14,000 of the faithful.

Doris Horne was in charge of mobilizing the Nebraska contingent. Many Rother relations are from the small town of Humphrey, Nebraska, while others have settled in the Columbus, Ohio area.

“There are 140 of us from my Grandmother Smith-Fuchs side here, from six states,” she told CNA as she sat amongst many of them at the Cox Convention Center before the beatification Mass for Fr. Stanley Rother, her second cousin.

Horne’s parents were first cousins to Fr. Stanley’s parents. Although she never met Fr. Stanley, Horne said she remembered his parents coming to visit. She was also able to make a pilgrimage to his mission in Guatemala on the 25th anniversary of his death.

“Everyone down there loved him, and the churches were packed” for the occassion, she recalled. “He was so loved down there.”

“I don’t know how to put it into words, but it’s an honor. We pray to him all the time, and I’m just honored to be part of the family,” she said.

Cousins have always been an important part of life for Fr. Stanley Rother, who came from a German Catholic family. The first wedding he ever celebrated was that of his cousin Kay Rother and her husband.

These days, Kay volunteers a lot at Holy Trinity parish in Okarche, Okla., where Fr. Stanley went to church and school. She said it’s probably a good thing Fr. Stanley wasn’t alive to witness all of his beatification happenings.

“With all this going on, he would not want it,” she said with a mixture of humor and bemusement, gesturing to the small crowd of journalists and distant relatives descending on the otherwise quiet parish grounds the day before the beatification Mass.

Stanley was a humble, quiet person and would have loathed being the center of attention, Kay explained.

“He wouldn’t like all the hubub,” she said. “He was very quiet and humble, and he didn’t brag on what he did.”

Besides being a cousin and the celebrant of her wedding, Fr. Stanley is dear to Kay for another important reason: she credits his intercession for saving the life of her daughter, Amber.

Several years ago, when Amber was just in her early twenties, she had a brain aneurysm rupture. The first hospital said there was nothing to be done except to take her upstairs and harvest her organs. Another hospital said if Amber lived, she’d spend her life in a vegetative state.

That’s when Kay’s husband called on Stan.

“My husband said don’t worry about it, I’m going to the cemetery. So he went to the cemetery and said ‘okay Stan, time for you to work.’ And three days later she opened her eyes, and today you’d never know it,” Kay said. Amber is healthy, and happily married, with one child.

Fr. Stan is a big reason she’s spent the past 30 years volunteering at the parish. Even in the midst of the beatification chaos, Kay was trying to fix the air conditioning in the church that had stopped working “today of all days.”

“I just felt like I owed it to him. It’s the least I can do,” Kay said, doing her best to hold back the tears.

When Fr. Stanley was killed in 1981, his heart remained interned at the altar in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. His body was flown back to Okarche, where it was buried in Holy Trinity’s cemetery until just a few months ago, when his remains were moved to a temporary resting place in the archdiocese, pending the completion of a shrine in his honor.

But his headstone still marks the original plot in the Holy Trinity Cemetery. “Padre A’plas”, it reads, the name for Father Francis in the native Guatemalan language of Tzutuhil, which he had learned to speak fluently.

Lee Rother and his family visited the cemetery the Friday before the beatification Mass, to honor Fr. Stanley, as well as the other Rother relatives buried there. As he walked through the grounds, Lee recalled fond memories of the people whose gravestones he passed. He must have known at least half of the people buried there.

Lee himself has settled in Minnesota, along with many of the other Rother relatives. He told CNA that he has given talks on Fr. Stanley, his third cousin, and is inspired by his faith.

“How he lived, how he served God and his people--he had a tremendous, deep faith in him,” he said.

This was something Fr. Stanley passed on to the Guatemalans he served.

“That parish flourished after he died, because he gave them a faith that they could lean on in the midst of their oppression,” he said, his excitement about his cousin palpale.

“It’s a tremendous thrill, it’s so exhilarating to have a relative who’s being beatified by the Catholic Church,” he said. “The best thing that’s ever happened to the Rother family.”

Kathy Rother is a cousin of Father Stanley’s who knew him growing up. Her family lived just a few miles down the road, and she went to school with Stanley and his siblings.

Kathy fondly remembered Stanley as a kind, brotherly figure, someone who once stopped the bullies on the bus from picking on her.

“The big boys would like to pick on the little kids because they were bored. They’d pull their hair or take your lunchbox,” Kathy said.

“I remember one time I was the butt of the jokes... and I remember looking around for one of my older brothers to rescue me, and they didn’t, but there was Stan sitting there and he patted the empty seat next to him, and I sat there and they left me alone, the boys just backed off,” she said.

“it wasn’t like Stan was a sissy, he was very self-contained, he knew what was right, and it wasn’t right to be picking on little kids,” she said. “He was very much looked up to.”

Kathy still remembers getting the news of her cousin’s untimely death. “That cut me to the heart”, she remembered, her eyes tearing up. But then, look what came of it, she added, smiling.

And he’s still there for her, though this time its through his prayers in heaven, rather than rescuing her from bus bullies.

“Many times I’ve called on Stan (in prayer),” Kathy said. “And he comes through.”

Tags: Catholic News, Beatifications, Oklahoma, Fr. Stanley Rother

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