The Rev. Stanley Rother was killed by paramilitary guerrillas in Guatemala in 1981. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City priest declared first American martyr by Pope Francis

VATICAN CITY (RNS) An American missionary priest killed in Guatemala in 1981 has moved a step closer to being named a Catholic saint after Pope Francis declared him the first-ever American martyr.

The Rev. Stanley Rother, a priest from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, served for nearly 15 years in Guatemala before being shot dead during the country’s bloody civil war that divided the country from 1960 to 1996.  

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Rother was 46 when he was gunned down in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan, a village 50 miles west of Guatemala City, on the same day government troops killed 13 townspeople and wounded 24 others there, according to Catholic News Service.

Catholics walk past a picture of Father Stanley Rother during a memorial mass in the small town of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, on July 28, 2006. Rother was an Oaklahoman priest killed on July 28, 1981, for his work with indigenous poor during Guatemala's brutal civil war. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Daniel LeClair

Catholics walk past a picture of the Rev. Stanley Rother during a memorial Mass in the small town of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, on July 28, 2006. Rother was an Oklahoman priest killed on July 28, 1981 for his work with indigenous poor during Guatemala's brutal civil war. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Daniel LeClair


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Rother, one of many priests killed during the Guatemalan civil war, is the first American to be recognized by the Vatican as a martyr. The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints declared that he had fulfilled the requirement of having "died in hatred of the faith." 

The pope signed the declaration on Thursday (Dec. 1), and it was announced by the Vatican on Friday. 

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“Stanley Rother has been approved for beatification,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, head of Oklahoma City's archdiocese, in a reaction he shared on Facebook and Instagram.

“He is the first US born martyr and priest to receive this official recognition from the Vatican! And of course the first from Oklahoma!”

Unlike other candidates for sainthood, martyrs do not need to have performed a Vatican-approved miracle to be beatified on the path to sainthood. Rother's beatification is expected in the coming weeks.

Francis, the first pope from Latin America, has previously indicated that priests killed during Latin America’s right-wing dictatorships died for their faith.  

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Last year, the pope formally declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr and beatified him. Romero, a prominent human rights activist, was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980, allegedly by a right-wing death squad. But his martyrdom was delayed for decades by conservative prelates who feared it would be interpreted as an endorsement of left-wing politics.

Comments

  1. Martyrdom = celebration of an unjust death
    Only Religion could generate such an immoral idea.

  2. Setting aside the macabre celebration of martyrdom (and whether it even applies), let’s see if I got this right: Spanish (e.g., European) invaders overwhelm and subjugate the indigenous Mayan population of this region roughly 500 years ago. Ever since, the descendants of those invaders have oppressed the descendants of the first people, culminating in a genocide by Guatemalan gov’t forces – materially aided and abetted by the Reagan administration and presided over by an evangelical Christian minister with ties to Falwell and Robertson – and the lionization of a white Catholic from Oklahoma is the story? Grotesque.

  3. “Unlike other candidates for sainthood, martyrs do not need to have performed a Vatican-approved miracle to be beatified on the path to sainthood.”

    “But his martyrdom was delayed for decades by conservative prelates who feared it would be interpreted as an endorsement of left-wing politics.”

    Then there was JPII whose process was spotted up because he was popular. Wasn’t Teresa put in the fast lane too for the sake of political expediency?

    The whole Roman Catholic Church picking saints business is so bogus. It’s all just a political game having very little to do with anything but power. It makes me angry to watch people being played like this. It’s really in the same vein as how the pres-elect played his fans throughout the campaign. Shame on the players. My sympathy lies with the played.

  4. This was a particularly bloody time in Guatemala. At that time I was stationed in nearby Panama (AF, in the Canal Zone) and spent weekends and leave time working alongside missionaries nearby. It’s high time that this martyred priest be recognized for his sacrifice, but I’m against the idea of any church making of anyone a saint!

  5. All Christians are saints dead or alive. It is only a couple of churches that have the illusion that their administrators can create saints that hold some sort of magical powers.

  6. Someday….soon maybe……. all will be understood

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