On September 23, 2017, the Catholic Church celebrated the beatification of a farm boy from Oklahoma. Thirty-two years earlier, in a small town in Guatemala, “Padre Apla’s” was martyred in his rectory in the middle of the night.
Stanley Rother was born in 1935 in Okarche, Oklahoma. His bucolic family was very faithful and prayed a Rosary every night after dinner, kneeling at the table. Unbeknownst to his family, Stanley contemplated a call to the priesthood while he rode the tractor in the field. In 1953, he went to seminary in San Antonio. There he worked in the seminary’s bindery and built a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Feeling more at ease working outside than in the classroom, he struggled with the academics in seminary and wrote in his journal, “Am thinking about another vocation,” later adding that his director, “set me straight on another vocation.”
After returning to Oklahoma City, Stanley met with the director of vocations and with his bishop. Nothing is recorded of that meeting except a single mention in Rother’s journal: “Saw Bishop and he will send me on next fall.” Whatever happened, Stanley convinced the bishop of his calling and was admitted to another seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1963. Five years later, he was sent to the diocesan mission in Guatemala and flourished as a pastor, learning to speak Tz’utujil (the local language) and even aiding in the translation of the New Testament into that language.
God knew what he was doing with this Oklahoma farm boy. Having learned about crops, irrigation, and proper planting practices on his family farm, Stanley put his knowledge to use by helping the Tz’utujil people better their farming techniques. He knew the value of hard work and was frequently seen eating and working alongside his parishioners. Decades before Pope Francis called for priests to “smell like their sheep,” Fr. Rother was working side by side with the men and women God gave him to shepherd.