New biography reveals courageous strength of steadfast, martyred priest from Oklahoma

by Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

3/7/2016

This is the cover of The Shepherd Who Didn't Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma by Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda.

The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma, by María Ruiz Scaperlanda. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division Inc. (Huntington, Ind.) 256 pp., $19.95.

The title of the new biography — ­­The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma — speaks volumes about the unshakable faith and resilient character of a remarkable missionary priest. If beatified, he will become the first Catholic martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to receive the recognition.

A native Oklahoman and missionary serving the impoverished in the village of Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala from 1968 to 1981, Fr. Rother knew his name was on a death list in that Central American nation torn by a bloody civil war. After careful discernment, a determined Fr. Rother decided he would not run, but would stand strong for Christ and the people of his village.

It was there that Fr. Rother immersed himself in the culture, language, and plight of the Tz’utujil Mayan Indians. His accomplishments through 13 years of faithful service were nothing short of miraculous. He organized a farmers’ co-op, constructed a school, built a hospital, erected a radio station, fed the hungry, visited the sick, and buried the dead. He literally brought Christ to the villagers, not only through the seven Catholic Sacraments, but through myriad practical acts and works.

The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run author María Ruiz Scaperlanda, introduces us to this Oklahoma-born priest who traveled many of the same roads as North Texans. She explains, for example, that Fr. Rother, born to a farming family in the Sooner state, was no stranger to hard work. Strong in character and body, Fr. Rother was assigned by his bishop to transform 95 acres of land on Lake Texoma, between North Texas and southern Oklahoma, into a retreat center in the 1960s before he ventured to Guatemala. Complete with several buildings and a bishop’s cabin, the land he developed through his great physical toil is still used by the Diocese of Oklahoma City.

We discover, through Scaperlanda’s careful research and gifted writing style, the character of the man who led the faithful by example. That character inspired at least one fellow priest, after his martyrdom, to ponder whether Fr. Rother might eventually become, like St. John Vianney, a patron saint of all priests.

What truly makes The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run a page-turner is the author’s talent for sharing Fr. Rother’s letters and other personal writings, combining them with historical data and personal interviews, and then presenting it all to us in a story that unfolds in colorful detail.

Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda (Photo courtesy Our Sunday Visitor)

While the book is a remarkable account of Fr. Rother’s life, it is also a heartbreaking story.

That a priest of only 46 years of age, in the prime of his life and priestly vocation, could be murdered for serving Christ among his people, brings us face to face with pure evil.

As we reflect on the facts, we discover that, like Christ and the martyrs who followed Him, the saints have a way of creating a religious legacy to which we can aspire.

The lesson is underscored in Matthew 10:28 — And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Fr. Rother’s life is not defined by the way in which he died, but instead by the lives he touched and his devotion to Christ. His example, detailed for us in The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run, illustrates that our greatest rewards come when we follow the Church’s teachings and share eternal life with our savior, Jesus Christ.

A martyr’s path to sainthood

After Fr. Stanley Rother’s death, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City petitioned the Holy See to designate the priest “fit for veneration.” After his case was accepted, he was granted the title of “Servant of God.”

On June 23, 2015, a special commission in Rome took a critical step toward the beatification of Fr. Rother.

Fr. Stanley Rother, martyred at age 46 in Guatemala, was beloved by the  Tz’utujil Mayan Indians in the area where he faithfully served for 13 years. (Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Oklahoma City)

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma reported on the historic decision:

“During [the June 23, 2015] meeting in Rome, nine theologians discussed the case for nearly two hours and gave a majority vote on Father Rother’s formal and material martyrdom in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith). The Cause now will move forward within the Congregation for consideration by a panel of cardinals and archbishops, who are members of the Congregation.

“If the vote of that panel is positive, the Prefect will present it to the Holy Father, who will promulgate the Decree of Beatification. Beatification, the final stage prior to canonization, permits public veneration and declares that the life of the Blessed is worthy of imitation among the Christian faithful. An approved miracle will be required to lead to his canonization.”

The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City also reported that, if beatified, Father Rother would become the first Catholic martyr from the United States. He also would become the first priest born in the United States to receive this recognition.

The title of the new biography — ­­The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma — speaks volumes about the unshakable faith and resilient character of a remarkable missionary priest. If beatified, he will become the first Catholic martyr from the United States and the first U.S.-born priest to receive the recognition.

Published