When I first learned about Maria Scaperlanda’s latest book, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run,” admittedly, I was a little embarrassed because I had not heard of Fr. Stanley Rother, the Oklahoma priest murdered in Guatemala. As a Catholic writer, I felt as if I had missed the boat in not hearing about this incredible priest who was martyred for the Faith.
Luckily for me, my friend Maria sent me this book and I was able to catch up. For those who think that martyrs were only around in “the olden days” think again. Fr. Stanley Rother is a modern day martyr who lived and died for the Faith.
Rother and his four siblings grew up on a farm in very rural Okarche, Oklahoma in a deeply religious family. He learned all aspects of farm life from his father and was expected to carry on in the family business. But one day, he startled his family when he opted for clerics and a bible rather than blue jeans and a pitchfork. Young Stanley was called to the priesthood.
The seminary was difficult for him as he was not the best student. Failing class after class, Fr. Stanley persevered, calling upon the intercession of St. John Vianney for assistance. He was sent to serve in rural Oklahoma, but was soon called to missionary work in Guatemala to serve the indigenous Tz’utujil community of Santiago Atitlán. The agricultural community was perfect for Fr. Stanley with his farming background. He worked alongside his parishioners to build a farmer’s co-op, a hospital, school and the first Catholic radio station. Through this station, catechizing even more remote villages was possible.
Fr. Stanley was loved so much in his little village that he became known as Padre Francisco, and later called Padre Aplas. He was a quiet and faith filled man and one who reminds me a bit of Pope Francis for his kindness and willingness to selflessly serve others.
Unfortunately, the Guatemalan civil war encroached in the peaceful community that Fr. Stanley had now called home. Each day there was more violence, killings and disappearances. Santiago Atitlán became a dangerous place for Fr. Stanley due to his relationship and camaraderie with the people. There were many who wanted him to leave and to “encourage him,” death threats were levied upon his parishioners. His life was also threatened, but he didn’t want to abandon the people he loved so much. He often repeated the words of Jesus to reinforce his mission, “At the first signs of danger, a shepherd can’t run.” John 10
For a short time, Fr. Stanley returned home to Oklahoma when the violence was at its vilest. His name had been placed on a death list and he was warned not to return to Guatemala. Not wanting to leave the people, he returned in time to celebrate Holy Week with his parishioners. Three months later, on July 28, 1981, he was sleeping in his library when three masked men entered the room in an attempt to kidnap and murder him. The invaders shot him twice, once in the jaw and once in the temple.
Through Fr. Stanley’s witness, we see his heart for Jesus, the Good Shepherd. A heart after the “one who gives his life for the sheep.”
This book captivated me because of Fr. Stanley’s courage, his faithfulness and his devotion to Jesus and the people of Santiago Atitlán. Fr. Stanley gives me the courage to stand up more for the Faith each day.
In the past 30 years, María has been published broadly in the U.S., including the New York Times, Our Sunday Visitor, St. Anthony Messenger, Columbia, and other national and diocesan publications. Her book, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run is published by Our Sunday Visitor and is available for order from the publisher, or at other places books are sold.
Maria’s work as a Catholic journalist has taken her on international assignments in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and throughout Europe. But perhaps her favorite assignment was covering Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to her native country, Cuba.
Her primary lifetime assignment, however, has been as wife to Michael for 34 years, mother to four grown children—and now “Bella” to six adorable grandchildren!
If you like, please follow Maria and learn more about her life as well as her writings on her blog, Day By Day with Maria.
If you want to learn more about Father Rother’s cause for canonization, click here to the diocese of Oklahoma site. Please pray for his cause and spread the word by reading and recommending this excellent biography. Thank you Maria!