Book review: Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda’s ‘The Shepherd who didn’t run: Father Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma’
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Published: 21-Sep-2017


OKLAHOMA CITY – Stanley Francis Rother grew up in Okarche, a town whose name is derived from the first letters of the words Oklahoma, Arapaho and Cheyenne.
In a loving family, he grew up with God, faith, family and farming. After education at Holy Trinity Church and School, Stan surprised many when he announced he wanted to study for the priesthood.
His first stab at seminary did not go well, academically. He got another chance, and did well enough. Known for practical skills and care of plants, he served a few parishes in his home state, then went on missionary work in Guatemala. For awhile, he was part of a team of 12 Americans, teaching in a region that had not had a resident priest in 100 years.
A quiet man, he worked alongside the Indians in the fields, applying well what he had learned on the farm.
In the tumult and turmoil (and loss of priests) of those years, eventually the Oklahoma-based staff declined to one – Rother.
His people soon called him “Padre Apla’s” – the latter word equivalent in their native tongue to “Francis,” his given middle name in English. And some called him simply Padre Francisco.
Rother’s time in the parish was quiet and methodical, for awhile. That was prelude to intensified clashes between an authoritarian government and rebels.
In the late 1970s, a long-simmering civil war intensified. Armed rebels visited the central town square, seeking recruits for their battle with the central government. The military then came. Bloody clashes grew common, and people began to disappear.
From time to time Stan Rother came home, to visit family, friends and brother priests like Marvin Leven, Tom Boyer and Don Wolf. Rother’s family includes his dear sibling, Sister Marita Rother. She thought it might be best that he leave Guatemala for good, and said as much. He replied that the shepherd can not run, and he did not. During a final trip home, in quality time, he seemed to say goodbye.
Then he went back to Guatemala.
The killers came on July 28, 1981. He fought back, likely to assure they did not take time to harm others in the rectory.
Rev. Rother’s death and life unfold with heart-felt detail and efficiency in “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run” (Our Sunday Visitor Press, 256 pages, $19.95). Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda performs a service to all those interested in knowing more about the man whose status as a martyr was ratified early last year by Pope Francis. His formal beautification is scheduled for downtown Oklahoma City on September 23.
Canonization – formal recognition as a saint – is a process. It does not denigrate required steps to term it a formality (but it is not a “mere” formality).
Still, in the Catholic tradition, sainthood is first proclaimed in the hearts of people. Rother’s sanctity, manly dignity and courageous holiness was known during his life, and affirmed through the laments of those he had served as parish priest at Santiago Atitlan. The Tz’utujil people believed Padre Francisco was a saint – before the investigations by popes, bishops, commissions, The Oklahoman or The New York Times.
A priest recalls that when Rother’s body was placed in the church hours after his martyrdom, “a little old Indian woman” knelt near his body. She cried her heart out, calling out, “They killed our priest. He was my priest, our priest … he spoke our language.”
And now, millions all over the world, people he never knew, try to understand his life.
A few personal notes:
I am a Roman Catholic who became an acolyte (altar server) at the age of six.
Maria Scaperlanda’s tender biography includes her description of Bishop Victor J. Reed’s ordination of eleven priests, including Rother, at my home parish, Oklahoma City’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Drawing from an unpublished work by the late Rev. David Monahan, Scaperlanda describes the ceremony held on May 25, 1963. Reading it brought the conviction (as Evangelicals might put it) that … I was there, as a young altar boy.
When my wife read the book, including brief reference to Rother’s time as a parish associate at St. Francis Xavier in Tulsa, she had a similar experience. Scaperlanda describes days Rother spent away from various parochial postings in the mid-1960s because of his practical skills. Rother supervised construction of a Catholic summer camp at Lake Texoma in Oklahoma. My wife realized Rother was the young priest children at St. Francis Xavier parish and school had loved to see. He was often away from Tulsa because, she recalled, “he had another job, too.” That was the job at Texoma.
When we lived in the national capital area, the McGuigans visited Emmitsburg, Maryland, including Mount St. Mary Seminary. That was the lace where the young seminarian – Rother – got that second chance to complete his formal training in the path to priesthood. While there, he put skilled hands to work in masonry, repairing a grotto honoring the Mother of Jesus. Our family was among those who at that place prayed for solace, guidance and bravery to follow saints of old.
Stanley Francis Rother is headed toward formal recognition of sainthood. All believers are called to sanctified living, modeled as best possible after the Shepherd of us all, the One Who searches through the dark days of life to find lost sheep, placing each into communion with the Maker of us all.
May every reader be moved to comprehend why the man soon to be called Saint Stanley Rother served, unto the ultimate sacrifice, the true Priest.

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