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April 5, 2024

Stanley Rother: From Farmboy to Father Apla's

April 5, 2024
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The Joy of the Gospel

He was the first American-born martyr. Twenty thousand people attended his beatification mass. He became a pastor, teacher, and father to an entire community. Churches and seminary buildings now bear his name - but at his heart, Stanley Rother was always a farmboy. His example teaches us that Saints aren’t superheroes. Christ calls everyone, each one of us, to live ordinary lives of extraordinary virtue and love. He called Stanley Rother, not to be anything different than he was - but to take up his Cross, and lay down his life for his friends.

Oklahoma Boy, Guatemala Priest

Blessed Stanley Rother.

Stanley Rother grew up on a farm in Okarche, Oklahoma, to a Catholic family. In youth, he learned hands-on how to be a farmer. Yet during high school, he felt a vocation to the priesthood. He entered a Catholic seminary following his high school graduation. While there, he served in many capacities around the grounds, but he struggled in his studies, especially his Latin. As a result, he was asked to leave priestly formation. Yet he carried on, and on the advice of the Bishop of Oklahoma City, he entered Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Mount would have a major influence on his life, forming his spirit of love and service. He too would influence The Mount in time.

After serving for several years as a parish priest, the now Father Stanley Rother was offered a position as a missionary. He was sent to Santiago Atitlán in the rural highlands of Guatemala. Once there, he worked tirelessly to improve the spiritual and personal lives of those in his community. He even learned the local language, a descendant of Mayan, and translated his preaching and Mass into it. He even led a project to translate the bible into the language.

Trials and Tribulations

He became affectionately known as “Padre Apla’s,” the Tzʼutujil word for Rother’s middle name (Francis). He loved his community and was beloved by them. His new country, however, was in the midst of major turmoil. Guatemala was being torn apart by a bloody civil war. The government persecuted Christians, believing them to be Communist sympathizers. Many of Father Rother’s catechists were abducted, never to be seen again. Rother himself was placed on the death list. He was evacuated to the United States, where he took time to pray and recover. But his heart was still bound to the people of Santiago Atitlán.

In an action of extraordinary courage, "Padre Apla’s" returned to his flock in Guatemala. He would not abandon them to spiritual starvation. He would not be budged from his vocation, even at the cost of his own life. When the death-squad finally came for him, Stanley did not allow them to remove him from the rectory, to the anonymous fate that many others had had. He did not want to risk betraying his parishioners under torture. He fought back and remained rooted where he stood, forcing them to kill him. The shepherd would not abandon his sheep; he gave his life away freely.

American Martyr

Blessed Stanley Rother’s story can be heard this week on The Saints: Adventures of Faith and Courage. Hear his journey from his small-town farm across the world to his new home. Listen to the story of his formation in the virtues that define his life and make him a true example of humility, courage, and love.

Listen to Stanley Rother on Monday, April 8, at!

Santiago Atitlán.
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