OKLAHOMA CITY – On Saturday, parishes across Oklahoma will celebrate the first feast day of the first U.S. born martyr, Blessed Stanley Rother, marking the 37 anniversary of his death.
Special masses, relic veneration services, and other events will take place throughout the Oklahoma City-area on the weekend of July 28. Catholics from Guatemala, where Rother served as a priest and was killed, are expected to attend.
His feast day will be celebrated in churches in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, the Diocese of Tulsa, and the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas.
The first Catholic Church dedicated to Rother is located in Decatur, Arkansas, and was dedicated shortly after Rother’s beatification.
The Diocese of Sololá-Chimaltenango, where the priest served the native people of Guatemala for 13 years, will also celebrate the feast day.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City has prepared readings for churches to use in honor of Rother.
The Heritage Gallery of the Oklahoma archdiocese was open to facilitate pilgrimages throughout the month of July. The gallery also includes a museum with Rother artifacts and information on the life of the martyr.
On July 28, a special Mass will be celebrated at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. Here, relics and medals of Rother will be given to members of the martyr’s family. Another Mass will be led by Coakley later that evening at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Okarche, the martyr’s hometown.
Other churches and pastoral centers will host prayer services, including times to venerate a first-class relic of Rother at St Francis de Sales Chapel on Saturday and Sunday. The church’s gift shop will feature Rother’s medals, prayer cards, and posters.
Last September, more than 20,000 people attended a beatification Mass in downtown Oklahoma City, making Rother the first U.S. born martyr to be officially beatified. Pope Francis approved Rother’s martyrdom in December 2016.
In 1968, the Oklahoma priest arrived at his Guatemala parish in Santiago Atitlan, a poor rural community of mostly indigenous people.
As a missionary priest, Rother was called on to say Mass, but also to fix the broken truck or work the fields. He built a farmers’ co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, which was used for catechesis to the even more remote villages.
Over the years, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war inched closer to the once-peaceful village. Disappearances, killings and danger soon became a part of daily life, but Rother remained steadfast and supportive of his people.
In 1981, armed men broke into his rectory, intending to abduct him. He resisted and struggled, but did not call for help, so others at the mission would not be endangered. He was shot twice and killed.
“He is a model of priestly holiness and fidelity. He came from an ordinary home and a small town, growing up on a farm where he learned to work hard. He knew the importance of family and community,” said Coakley in a July 25 press release.
“He placed all his natural gifts and talents at the service of his priestly ministry and missionary endeavors. With so many challenges facing our priests today, here is a priest we can embrace and celebrate – the shepherd who didn’t run.”