In the year 197, the famous North African Christian author Tertullian wrote, in words that have resounded repeatedly throughout the centuries: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." His words continue to resound in this age, which has seen more Christian martyrs than any previous time in the Church's history. And today, what the Te Deum calls "the white-robed army of martyrs" celebrates an illustrious addition to its ranks - Blessed Stanley Francis Rother (1935-1981), martyred in Guatemala in 1981 and beatified today in his home diocese of Oklahoma City - the first U.S,-born martyr (also the first U.S-born priest) to be thus honored.
Born in Okarche, OK, Blessed Father Rother grew up on a farm and was forced to abandon seminary on his first attempt because he did so poorly in his Latin studies. But Bishop Reed of Oklahoma, found him a place at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, where, with tutoring help, he. was able to pass and was ordained in 1963. After serving ins everal Oklahoma parishes, he volunteered as a missionary in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, in 1968. There, the poor student who had struggled to make it through seminary ended up mastering not only Spanish, but also the local Mayan dialect. He also put his farming background to good use helping local farmers in their agricultural techniques, and also helped set up a radio station, a health clinic, and a school. During the political unrest and violence of the late 1970s and 1980s, when many of his parishioners were killed, he too became a target. He made one last trip home to see his family in early 1981, but then returned to Guatemala, because - as he had written in a letter - "The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger." He was murdered in his rectory on July 28, 1981. No one has ever been charged for his murder. His heart was buried in his Guatemalan parish, and his body in Oklahoma. His Cause was opened 10 years ago in 2007.
As the Archbishop of Oklahoma City has noted, his parish in Guatemala was an old one with a century-old church, which had been priestless for much of its history and had never produced a vocation on its own. Since his martyrdom, however, his parish has produced nine priests has seven more seminarians at present!
The Church in Oklahoma responded generously to Pope Saint John XXIII's summons in the early 1960s to the prosperous Church in North America to come to aid of its poorer neighboring Church in Latin America in the priestly holiness, pastoral devotion, missionary zeal, and heroic martyrdom of Blessed Father Stanley Rother, whose feast will henceforth be kept, according to the Beatification Decree, on the day of his death, July 28.
His missionary ministry represented a life-long expression of the unity of North and South in the one Body of Christ. His heroic death, due to worldly powers' hatred on Christ and his Church, highlights the perennial presence of such hatred in the world and the permanent significance of the witness of martyrdom for the Church's mission in the world.