As hymns resonated last week inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Oklahoma City, Father Don Wolf of Shawnee kept thinking about the Rev. Stanley Rother’s funeral nearly three decades before.
Wolf, Rother’s second cousin, said he experienced a resurgence of feelings that reinforced the slain priest’s ultimate sacrifice while attending a closing ceremony for Rother’s cause of canonization. In 1981, Wolf had attended his relative’s funeral at the same cathedral.
Two siblings of the martyred priest, Tom Rother, 70, of Okarche, and Sister Marita Rother, a 74-year-old member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ based in Wichita, Kan., sat in a second-row pew with other family members for the historic event.
The Rev. Rother, an Oklahoma missionary serving in Guatemala, suffered and died at the hands of unknown gunmen in the rectory of the parish that served the Tzutujil, the indigenous Mayan people of Guatemala. While no group claimed responsibility for Rother’s assassination, most assumed a right-wing death squad was responsible. The Okarche priest was on a death list, but he had returned to the Santiago Atitlán mission shortly before his murder to be with his people.
“It was this faithful teaching and living the word of God which made him a target of hatred and evil,” said the Most Rev. Eusebius J. Beltran, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “On July 28, 1981, he was brutally martyred in the parish house.
“When (he) was brutally attacked, beaten and shot dead, the natives of Santiago Atitlán and the Catholic people of Oklahoma were shocked and saddened. But immediately, the Tzutujil people enshrined his heart in the parish church because they believed Father Rother was a holy man. They believed he was a saint with God who would now be their intercessor.”
Oklahoma Gazette chronicled Rother’s life in the “Heart of a martyr” cover story in 2006. The canonization process began 33 months ago. Tribunal members interviewed more than 90 people and scoured thousands of documents, including newspaper articles and personal letters. The Gazette provided unclassified U.S. State Department documents to the historical commission about Rother’s assassination.
In all, the research includes 14,000 total documents, including two sets of copies, and 7,700 documents in the archdiocese’s archives, Cara Koenig of the canonization’s historical commission said. The tribunal, which is charged with preparing the cause for consideration by Pope Benedict XVI, is sworn to secrecy until the cause is decided. That sealed research was presented to a Catholic Church official on July 20 in OKC.
Postulator Andrea Ambrosi, a canon lawyer in Rome, said through a translator that the Vatican will take at least three years to study the material.
“It will take quite a bit of time,” Ambrosi said.
According to the archdiocese, if the materials are worthy of consideration, Rother receives the “venerable” title. By virtue of martyrdom, a martyr can be beatified and declared “blessed,” in which case one miracle will be required for the cause’s final stage. Rother would be declared Oklahoma’s first saint upon confirmation of a miracle.
As far as the Rev. Thomas McSherry is concerned, Rother was already declared a saint by the Guatemalan people.
“He was a great witness to the poor, to justice and to giving of self,” said McSherry, Rother’s successor in Guatemala who now serves at St. Patrick Catholic Church in OKC. “That’s the inspiration for us.”
The Rev. Marvin Leven, who went to seminary with Rother and now serves as pastor emeritus at Holy Trinity Church in Okarche, said the July 20 celebration was a “once in a lifetime experience.” Leven, who visited Rother in Guatemala, said he was elated for his great friend.
The Rev. Tim Luschen, the new priest at Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Warr Acres, described the ceremony as “a wonderful, moving experience” celebrating the “bravery of one who chose to serve.”
Episcopal delegate Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., said he was very pleased to forward the cause to Rome.
Now, it’s time for the paperwork to catch up with reality, Wolf said.
“God will make him a saint,” he said after the ceremony. “We’ll just sort of catch up with it all.”
Heart of a martyr
As the slain Okarche priest steps closer to sainthood, light is shed on Rev. Stanley Rother’s murder
Documentary explores inspirational life, assassination of Rev. Stanley Rother
photo The Most Rev. Eusebius J. Beltran right, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, presents a box of documents related to Stanley Rother to Postulator Andrea Ambrosi center, a canon lawyer in Rome. Ambrosi will be present at the opening in Rome to ensure the seal is unbroken and the box is unopened.