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Pope Francis recognizes Mount Seminary graduate as a martyr

Father Stanley RotherThe Vatican announced that Pope Francis has recognized Fr. Stanley Rother, S’63, as a martyr. The recognition makes Fr. Rother the first martyr born in the United States, and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary the first seminary in the United States with a graduate who is a martyr.

Rev. Msgr. Andrew R. Baker, rector/vice president of Mount St. Mary's Seminary notes, “As a good shepherd, Fr. Rother knew that he could not abandon his flock when his life was in danger. We teach our men that their dedication to their people as a priest must take priority over their own needs and even their own life. I think it means that the Mount has always formed and continues to form men to be saintly priests.”

Fr. Rother was assassinated in Guatemala on July 28, 1981 while on assignment as a missionary from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. He had spent 13 years working with the poor in a rural town of the Central American country at the time of his death. 

After his ordination in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Fr. Rother traveled to the impoverished town of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala with a group of Catholic missionaries.

While there, he worked with the Tzutuhils, an indigenous people, helping build and establish a small hospital, school, credit union, weaver’s cooperative and its first Catholic radio station. He also worked in the fields, growing crops and installing a well and irrigation system.

It wasn’t uncommon for Fr. Rother to visit families, celebrate Mass as many as five times in four separate locations on Sundays, and even conduct up to 1,000 Baptisms a year.

In 1980 during the Guatemalan Civil War, a military presence moved into town. The Guatemalan government deployed soldiers to suppress and kill those who were promoting education and social progress among the rural poor.

Fr. Rother churchIn the following months, Fr. Rother reclaimed the bodies of his slain deacons, parishioners and community leaders and provided them with proper burials. Eight priests were also killed, and he too received death threats.

He briefly returned to Oklahoma, only to return to Santiago Atitlán because he did not want to leave the people he served, despite the severe risk.

Thousands mourned Fr. Rother in the town’s main square, showing the significant impact he made on his community.

“I think Fr. Rother's courage, simplicity, and perseverance highlight for me the great qualities of a leader and a priest,” said Msgr. Baker. “He undertook things that were very difficult for him to do but he did them anyway and without complaint. He was a man of simple yet strong faith and he didn't let threats to his life deter him from proclaiming the Gospel and continuing to reach out to the peripheries; that is, the poor and marginalized. All of these things have inspired me.”

The date of the beatification ceremony, which may take place in the United States, has not been determined.

About Mount St. Mary’s Seminary - Mount St. Mary’s Seminary strives to be a spiritual place that fosters a way of life and provides an atmosphere for excellent priestly formation in all its aspects: human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral. Founded in 1808 by the French immigrant missionary priest Father John Dubois, the Mount has more than 200 years of history and solid tradition of excellence in the formation of candidates for the Catholic priesthood. Graduate study at the seminary is also open to a limited number of non-seminarians.

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