John Rosengren | July 23, 2019
The first time I heard about Stan Rother, I was standing in the room where he was killed. It was a sitting room, about 28 feet by 20 feet, in the rectory of Santiago Apóstol, the church in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, where the American priest had served as a missionary. He had been using it as a hideaway bedroom since his name appeared on a death list. Apparently his acts of charity to the impoverished Mayas in his parish had angered the military government.
The priest telling me this story 15 years after Rother’s 1981 murder was his friend, Father Greg Schaffer, a missionary in the neighboring parish. Schaffer explained how three masked men had found Rother there one night that July. The 46-year-old Rother, strengthened by years of working with his hands, must have fought them, Schaffer said, because his knuckles were raw. From his words, I could imagine the struggle that had taken place, how Rother’s faith had played out, the assassins finally pinning him into a corner, shooting him in the jaw. I could see him crumple. See one of the men bend over, level his Smith & Wesson handgun against Rother’s left temple, and fire. See the men flee while Rother’s life leaked out of him.
I marveled at the blood left splattered on the wooden walls and knelt to place my finger in the hole the final bullet had punched in the tile floor.
Rother’s fidelity to his parishioners and his willingness to die for his faith elevated him to the status of a saint in Santiago Atitlán. The Church may soon concur. A Vatican investigation determined in July 2015 that Rother had been killed in odium fidei, in hatred of the faith, making him a martyr. The following year, in December, Pope Francis approved his beatification, the last step before sainthood, making Rother the first priest born in the United States, the first missionary sent from the U.S., and the first American-born male to be so revered. If canonized, he would join Elizabeth Ann Seton and Katharine Drexel as the only Roman Catholic saints born in the U.S., and would be the first male among them.
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