I reached a milestone last semester, I completed my Master’s Thesis in Theology! A thesis or dissertation is often a very personal work, not autobiographical necessarily, but personal in the sense that many, many long hours (weeks and months too) are spent reading, researching, and in my case, interviewing and translating in relation to a topic. That topic for me was a person, Fr. Stanley Rother of Oklahoma, a diocesan priest, missionary, and martyr.
Fr. Stanley Rother’s cause for canonization is currently underway and he is likely to be Oklahoma’s first saint. I was born in Oklahoma City and first learned about Fr. Stanley at a Catholic bookstore. There was a shelf that had books and items about Oklahoma Catholicism and on that shelf was a book of his letters entitled, The Shepherd Cannot Run. I picked up that book, thumbed through it, and bought it. I read it and placed it on my shelf. I took the book with me when I moved and when I entered the Order the Preachers (Dominicans).
In the last few years a guild was established to help further the cause of Fr. Stanley and this sparked the beginning of my thesis. It turns out that many of the friars had visited the Guatemalan town of Santiago Atitlán, where Fr. Stanley was martyred, and the current president of Aquinas Institute of Theology even met him!
My thesis is not a biography of Fr. Stanley, but an attempt at discovering his spirituality. My task was to look at the lived experience of Fr. Stanley and see how he applied the Gospel in his life and through this, discover his spirituality. The primary means for doing this was to examine Fr. Stanley’s life and circumstances, his family’s and friends’ comments and opinions, his vocation and work, and his own writing.
As I read and re-read his letters, books and book chapters about him, about Guatemala, about Oklahoma, about the Church of the 1950s-1980s, I realized that Fr. Stanley's relationship with God never wavered--his life with its many ups and downs prepared him for his work with the Tzutuhil people in Guatemala.
“Service has to be our motto.” Fr. Stanley said this to his cousin and he lived this out his whole life. Once at the mission in Santiago Atitlán, Fr. Stanley’s life revolved around the Tzutuhil people. He loved them and they loved him. His dedication can be seen in his learning the Tzutuhil language, his aspiration to understand their culture and live like them as best he could, his concern for the health of the natives including the establishment of a hospital, his desire to educate the Tzutuhil, and ultimately his martyrdom.
Rother’s whole life is an example of service to God and others, a living out of the greatest commandment found in the Gospel of Matthew, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39)
Learn more about Fr. Stanley Rother and his cause at these links below: