"We diocesan priests have lost our historical sense. If Stan* had been a Jesuit, twenty books would have been written about him by now."
~~Fr. John Vesey to his fellow priests during a Tulsa-Oklahoma City clergy week 5 June 1984
Although not what I was expecting – a straight biography of the martyred Father Stanley Rother – Love In A Fearful Land is an interesting and worthwhile book, especially during this Year For Priests because it brings together in one book three incredible priests who never had the chance to meet all together in one place, although two were both friends of Fr. John Vesey.
The author, Fr. Henri Nouwen, the best known of the three, has written over forty spiritual books and yet he was in the middle of a writing slump at the time Fr. Vesey asked him to tell the story of a quiet Oklahoma farm boy who became a priest, traveled to Guatemala in the late 1960s and fell in love with the people there. Writing this book brought Fr. Nouwen out of his slump.
Love In A Fearful Land is agonizingly brief, as was the life of Fr. Stan, this gentle yet strong priest, beloved by his parish. You will probably want to study the all too few surviving pictures of him; I know I did. He is always smiling and so is everyone who is with him. Despite the constant danger he lived in, Fr. Rother was not seeking martyrdom; he just believed a shepherd’s place was with his flock.
On the night of July 28th shortly after midnight, three men broke in to the rectory and attempted to kidnap Fr. Rother as was the practice of the time. There was a civil war in Guatemala in 1981 and the government was powerless – or claimed it was anyway – to stop roving bands of terrorists from kidnapping anyone perceived as a threat. Once kidnapped, the individuals were brutally tortured, killed and their bodies left by the side of the road or worse yet, never found. It was considered far better not to be taken alive. Father Rother, apparently put up quite a fight before he was shot twice in the head. The room where he died is now used as a chapel by his ‘flock’ who has already proclaimed him a saint.
Here is the prayer for canonization the Archdiocese of Oklahoma has written in his honor.
A week from today, on the 28th of this month, I'm going on pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Church, Father Stanley Rother's home parish, in Okarche, Oklahoma. It's the 28th anniversary of his death in Guatemala. We've been praying for his canonization for many years now, but I've yet to visit his town or parish and ... always wanted to. If you feel so called, please join us in praying for a very special intention that day.