Clio Logo

Located in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in Oklahoma City is one burial site of Blessed Stanley Rother - a priest, servant, friend, and martyr. Living in Guatemala in the midst of a civil war, Rother advocated for those without a voice and spoke out against injustice while reprimanding influential U.S administrations that sponsored violence. Eventually this work cost him his life. While his life may have ended too soon, the memory of him will live on forever as the Catholic Church recognizes him as a true servant of God and an inspiration to all - worthy of the title “blessed” and eventually, “saint.”


  • Stanley Rother
  • Rother with the Guatemalan people
  • The Rite of Beatification
  • Plaque in Guatemala near Rother's buried heart

Born in Okarche, Oklahoma in 1935 during the struggle of the infamous Dust Bowl, Rother grew up taking nothing for granted and helping where he could. Because of his compassionate attitude and longing to serve, Rother was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1963 and was sent by his diocese to Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala in 1968. During the Guatemalan Civil War which began in 1960 and lasted until 1996, the citizens of the community of Santiago Atitlán suffered greatly due to violence and oppression. Right-wing militarist government forces fought violently against left-wing guerrilla groups and indigenous peoples. 

During this thirty-six-year period, much of the political conflict in Central America had interference from third parties such as the United States. Elected in 1980, President Ronald Reagan stated that one of his main missions was “to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”[1] For Reagan, this meant rejecting any and all aspects of communism. To improve U.S. relations with Guatemala and monitor the potential spread of communism in the region, President Ronald Reagan lifted the embargo on arms sales to Guatemala in 1983.[2] What was first thought to be an action for preventing ideological spread between nations resulted in the aiding of the dictatorial government of Guatemala in their continued human rights violations. These violations included “bombing villages, attacking fleeing residents, … and disemboweling civilians.”[3] Throughout this tragedy, the U.S. Catholic Left continued to support Guatemalans and indigenous peoples while expressing their disapproval of U.S. policy during Reagan’s term.

Father Stanley Rother was a continuous advocate and servant to those being oppressed. He consistently wrote back to his fellow priests and bishops in the U.S. explaining the severity of the situation and urging them to help the cause. In one letter, Rother wrote “the low wages that are paid, the very few who are excessively rich, the bad distribution of land - these are some of the reasons for the widespread discontent.”[4] Not only did he observe the problems, but he heard about issues directly from his community members. During his time in Santiago Atitlán, Rother learned the peoples’ complex language of Tzutujil in order to further build relationships and properly serve. As part of his religious work, Rother translated the New Testament into the people’s native language. He also aided with food production and harvest efforts. In an interview, one local said that “as a pastor, he knew it was difficult for people to be spiritually strong while they were physically hungry.”[5] For Rother, it was not about changing the people through religion, but rather using religion as the foundation for loving and caring for them.

It was this love and passion which ultimately decided his fate. When tensions grew high in January of 1981, Stanley Rother’s name appeared on a death list. For his own safety, he returned to his home in Oklahoma where he stayed only until April. Like Rother said, “the shepherd cannot run.”[6] He returned to his community in Guatemala and continued his missionary work until he was murdered in the parish rectory on July 28, 1981. His death came as a shock to many and ignited a flame within the U.S. Catholic Left and those advocating for justice and peace. The death of Stanley Rother prompted a reevaluation by the Reagan Administration on U.S. foreign policy in which they attempted to address “concerns about human rights” from Catholics “without alienating Congressional conservatives.”[7]

In the Catholic Church, Beatification is the second stage in the process of proclaiming an individual a saint. On September 23, 2017, after years of examining his life and works, the church held the Rite of Beatification for Father Stanley Rother in Oklahoma City. On this day, an equally significant celebration occurred in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. People flooded the streets to celebrate the man who gave them his love. One of the most true forms of this love is represented in the burial sites of Blessed Stanley Rother. While his body is buried here, in Oklahoma City, his heart is in Santiago Atitlán - for it truly belongs with the people.


[1] ‘ “The Reagan Doctrine” is Announced’ History.com, 2009, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-reagan-doctrine-is-announced

[2] McDonnell, Patrick. “Guatemala's Civil War Devastated the Country's Indigenous Maya Communities.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 3 Sept. 2018, https://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-guatemala-war-aftermath-20180903-story.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] McConahay, Mary Jo. 2017. “Guatemalan People Celebrate Fr. Stanley Rother’s Influence.” National Catholic Reporter, October 6. https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/guatemalan-people-celebrate-fr-stanley-rothers-beatification

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Blessed Stanley Rother.” Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, https://archokc.org/stanleyrother

[7] Cangemi, Michael J. ""We need the closest possible cooperation with the Church": Catholic Activists, Central America, and the Reagan Administration, 1981–1982." U.S. Catholic Historian 37, no. 1 (2019): 167-191. doi:10.1353/cht.2019.0007.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Rother

https://blog.franciscanmedia.org/franciscan-spirit/father-stanley-rother-first-american-martyr

https://archokc.org/news/bl-stanley-rother-from-beatification-to-canonization

https://thecatholictravelguide.com/destinations/u-s-a/oklahoma-city-tomb-blessed-stanley-rother/