The Shepherd Who Didn't Run

American martyr, Fr. Stanley Rother, heroic model of priestly holiness

HUNTINGTON, Indiana, November 24, 2015 – In the first biography of the late Oklahoma priest  whose cause for beatification is now being considered by the Vatican, award-winning journalist Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda tells of the modern-day priest who didn’t run from danger of death when it meant closely shepherding his flock.

“The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” Fr. Stanley Rother said in his last Christmas letter in 1980 to Catholics in his native Oklahoma. This might be seen today as a strong metaphor for the real meaning of the priesthood:  a true shepherd of God serves and leads his flock, and doesn’t ‘run away’ by refusing to take a truthful though unpopular stand, comforting himself in luxury, or ignoring the plight or confusion of his people.

In The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run: Fr. Stanley Rother, Martyr from Oklahoma (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015), Scaperlanda details Fr. Stanley’s fascinating and inspiring story.  The humble parish priest was true to his word and example to the end – he did not shrink from threat of death – and was martyred for his priesthood at 46.

Five years after ordination in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Fr. Stanley went as a missionary to Guatemala in 1968, and immediately identified with his parishioners’ simple, farming lifestyle there. He learned their languages, prepared them for the sacraments, and tended to their spiritual and material needs.  Fr. Stanley, or “Padre Apla’s” as he was called by his beloved Tz’utujil Mayan Indians, had found his heart’s calling.

After nearly a decade, the violence of the Guatemalan civil war found its way into Fr. Stanley’s peaceful village of Santiago Atitlán. Disappearances, killings, and danger were daily realities, but despite the turmoil, Fr. Stanley remained steadfast while building a farmer’s co-op, a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station, used for catechesis.

In early 1981 with his name on a death list, he came home to Oklahoma and was warned not to go back to Guatemala. Unwilling to abandon his people, he nevertheless returned after three months, then paid the ultimate price for his priestly dedication, on July 28, 1981. Fr. Stanley was shot to death, among 10 priests killed in the country that year.

 “Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people,” said Fr. Stanley, “that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

“I am delighted that a biography of Father Stanley Rother is finally available and that many more people will be introduced to the heroic life and martyrdom of this Servant of God.  His witness as a dedicated missionary and pastor is a gift to the Church in our time.  María Ruiz Scaperlanda portrays his life with fidelity and warm admiration.” -- Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop of Oklahoma City

“María Ruiz Scaperlanda has a long and well-deserved reputation as one of our finest Catholic journalists. She is a good storyteller and she tells the story of Father Stanley Rother with sensitivity and intelligence, introducing us to a holy priest, a defender of the poor, and a missionary martyr of our times — one more shining light in the long history of holiness and heroism in the Americas.” – José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

María Ruiz Scaperlanda is an award-winning author, journalist, and retreat facilitator. She has been published broadly in both the Catholic and secular press, traveling on international assignments in Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and throughout Europe. María blogs at DaybyDaywithMaria.blogspot.com. She and her husband reside in Norman, Oklahoma.