Over 20,000 people gathered in Oklahoma City on Sept. 23 to celebrate the beatification Mass of Fr. Stanley Rother, following Pope Francis’s approval of this penultimate step on the road to canonization a few months ago.
In the crowd were several UD students and alumni, who made it a priority to attend the ceremony.
The Oklahoma-born martyr was killed by civic troops in Santiago Aititlán, Guatemala in 1981, after serving his congregation for 13 years. Rother was known for his kindness and courage while confronting forces who targeted Christians for trying to build infrastructure that raised the poor from inhuman conditions. and Rother died a heroic death after living an ordinary life.
“I loved that he wasn’t living in 1802,” said Sister Josephine Garrett, UD class of 2003, who was present at the Beatification with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
“He was someone who was living in our time, and so it was really helpful for me to see how to be a saint today,”
“He made a simple choice. It was a hard choice, but he made it: he went back to his congregation, and he was just living his life like a normal priest, and that’s where I think we become saints, in our ordinary context … because life now isn’t like it was in 1802, and so sometimes it can feel like ‘How can I be a saint in such a different context?’ and he gave us such a good example of that.”
Mass began around 10:00 a.m. in Cox Convention Center. The main arena was packed with people from from around the world, with a great number from Guatemala and Oklahoma. The stands were filled with both laypeople and clerics, and Catholics and non-Catholic ecumenical representatives.
“We are grateful for your recognition of the heroic witness of this good shepherd who chose to remain with his people rather than flee from the danger and violence that threatened to overwhelm his flock,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley, the Archbishop of Oklahoma City.
“He gave his life in solidarity with so many suffering individuals and families who endured persecution for the sake of the Gospel.”
While some had never heard of the soon-to-be saint before, others had known him from a young age.
“Because OK is so small and he only died in 1981,” “not only are his relatives still alive but I know people who are related to him,” said senior Theology major Kelsie Kent, who, as an Oklahoma resident, grew up knowing Fr. Rother’s story. “People who know people who are related to him, people who worked on his case. It was a very tight-knit, close community that developed around him even prior to them announcing that he was gonna be beatified.”
“I think the fact that he is the first American-born martyr is going to find its way around, and people will find out about that for sure,” she said.
Students hoped that the saint would become more well-known on campus as well.
“People can have faith without intellectualizing everything, which I think UD tends to do,” senior art major Madie Hoelscher said. “But it’s important that people see the result of someone else’s faith and how their faith can lead others closer to God.”