God promises us in Sacred Scripture, “I will give you shepherds” (Jeremiah 3:15). For the United States, this past September will stand out as an exemplary reminder of that promise. Reverend Stanley Rother, born in Okarche, Oklahoma in 1935 and recognized as a martyr by Pope Francis last year, was beatified 23 September in Oklahoma City. His was only the second beatification ceremony to take place in the United States.
Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in 1963, Rother then served as a missionary to the people of Guatemala from the late 1960s into the 1980s. He worked closely with farmers, fixed tractors, started a radio station, but in everything he did he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During the civil war then ravaging Guatemala, where religious persecution was the norm, Rother discovered that he was on a “death list” and reluctantly returned to Oklahoma City. In a letter written to Oklahoma Catholics in Christmas 1980, Rother had explained: “A shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” Therefore, it was no surprise when he chose to return to Guatemala in July 1981. Three days later, Rother was mercilessly shot and killed in his rectory.
There were many priests in Oklahoma City and in Guatemala in the 1980s. But in times and places that the Church suffers intense persecution, disregard and even outright violence, God gives us shepherds. Father Stanley Rother reminds us that what the Church needs today is not merely priests, but shepherds worthy of the name.