Blessed Father Rother’s sister recalls his goodness
By Charlene Scott Myers
Southwest Kansas Catholic
Sister Marita Rother, ASC, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ religious order in Wichita, remembers her older brother, Father Stanley Rother, as a quiet, shy person who got along with most everyone.
In their childhood years following the Dust Bowl and Depression, the siblings learned at an early age that doing chores was part of a day’s work, along with school duties.
“We had to get up early on school days to get the milking done, separate the cream from the milk, eat breakfast, get ready for school and run to catch the school bus at the intersection three blocks away,” she said.
And more chores awaited the children when they arrived home from school.
“We had a large farm and raised cattle, pigs and chickens wheat, milo, alfalfa and a big garden in the summer.”
Father Stan was 14 months older than his sister; a brother, Jim, was born after Sister Marita, followed by Caroline (who died shortly after birth), and Tom, born three years later. Jim passed away at age 36 from leukemia.
Family life was important, she said.
“We had many extended family members within just a few miles of our home—both sets of grandparents lived within a mile in different directions, and many of our parents’ siblings lived within only a few miles. We knew our cousins very well, because we also went to school together.”
The parish priest, who had grown up on a farm not far from Okarche, often spent time with the different families of his parish and helped them with the harvest by driving the tractor or hauling wheat.
“He liked to be with the families, and they always like to have him come out, even if it was just to have dinner. I believe this may have encouraged some boys to consider being a priest. Perhaps Stanley received his call in that way.”
In the early summer of 1953—after the future priest graduated from high school and his sister completed her junior year—both of them notified their parents about their desires to serve the Church and God’s people.
“I told my mother on Mother’s Day that I wanted to join the convent the next school year,” Sister Marita said. “Of course she was surprised, but very supportive. My mother had two sisters who were Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the only community I really knew. Stanley told them not too long after that he wanted to go to the seminary.”
Sister Marita is one of approximately 200 Sister Adorers in the United states and 2,000 worldwide. She taught for many years and served in administration positions. She was Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Dodge City diocese from 1987-90, after which she became principal of Sacred Heart Cathedral School from 1989-91.
“I very much enjoyed serving in the Dodge City area,” she said. “I worked with, and met some very fine people.”
Her brother Stan, meanwhile, had entered the seminary, and after his ordination as a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, served in several small parishes in Oklahoma. When the archdiocese had an opening in their mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, Father Stanley volunteered.
“I visited Stan in Guatemala during the summers of 1973 and 1978,” Sister Marita said. “I had never seen such poverty as I saw there. They had no running water—only that which they carried up from the lake where they washed their clothes and fished. Many children died of malnutrition until the missionaries opened a center where mothers could bring their children to feed them at least one nutritious meal a day. This is where I worked every morning my first summer. I saw many children improve in the six weeks I was there.
“I gained a deep appreciation of Stan in having the privilege of seeing him interact and work with the poor,” she added. “He felt so at home with the Tzutujil Indians. He took the time to learn their language, which had never been written before the Oklahoma missionaries began serving there. Eventually, he began celebrating Mass in their language, preaching and teaching them, which no priest had done before.
“They claimed him as their own. He loved the people and they knew it. They became his family. He taught them farming methods, and set up a weaving co-op to give them jobs and some income.”
By 1979 the presence of the army became more constant in Santiago Atitlan. Young men and catechists were disappearing; some were found tortured or mutilated along the roadside. By early 1981, Father Stan’s name was placed on the death-list.
At the request of his archbishop, Father Stan had to leave his Guatemala parish that he loved and return to Oklahoma.
During his time away from his people, he worried about them, prayed for them, and longed to be with them.
“’A shepherd does not run at the first sign of danger,’ he said. So, after a couple of months, he returned to Guatemala in time for Holy Week,” Sister Marita explained. “Though his name was down on the list, he kept a low profile. However, on July 28, three masked men broke into his rectory and forced a young man to take them to ‘his hiding place’. There they shot and killed him.
“Both of our parents were still alive when he was murdered,” Sister Marita said. “It was very painful for them, as you can imagine.
“Though Stan’s people wanted to keep his body in Santiago Atitlan, they agreed to keep his heart, and his body was returned to Oklahoma for burial. His heart is enshrined at the entrance of their Church.”
Sadly—and yet a remarkable commentary on the beloved priest—more than 3,000 people had to be turned away when the large convention center in Oklahoma City where his beatification was held was filled to capacity.