August 17, 2023 | Local News
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Fr. Basilio Az Cuc gives a homily on July 24 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, which was one of the stops on the diocese’s touring display of the relics of Bl. Stanley Rother. RACHEL HALL | WKC

Diocese of Owensboro welcomes relics of Bl. Stanley Rother, U.S. priest and martyr


The relics of Bl. Stanley Rother, priest and martyr from Oklahoma, have been on a touring display at parishes throughout the diocese this past summer as they make their way to their new home at St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro, Ky. They were given to Bishop William F. Medley by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

Once a humble farmer from Oklahoma, with not the best track record in school, Fr. Stanley felt a call to priesthood. After many years of struggling through seminary he completed his studies and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in May 1963. After five years in parish ministries, he volunteered for mission work in Guatemala. There he found a community strife with civil war, a people suffering. Fr. Stanley devoted himself to learning the language and building back the community.

Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro hosted the relics in July. The occasion was celebrated with a week of events, starting Monday, July 24, with an Evening Prayer service led by Fr. Basilio Az Cuc, parochial vicar of St. Thomas More in Paducah, himself from Guatemala. Though not from the same town, he had always looked to Fr. Stanley Rother and his life for guidance in his own discernment. Fr. Basilio spoke of his bravery and love for the people during his homily: “Like a shepherd that smells of his flock.” He reflected, “He brought with him the knowledge of his days as a farmer, and a compassion that gave hope and strength to the people. He was consolation to a community wearied and tired.”

The relics of Bl. Stanley Rother are seen on July 24, 2023 displayed with an ornate quilt by a local artist commissioned by Fr. J. Patrick Reynolds at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, Ky. RACHEL HALL | WKC

Though threatened again and again, Fr. Stanley Rother stayed in Guatemala. Only after being commanded by the archbishop to come back he did, and only for a short time in May 1981, long enough to see the ordination of his cousin. After two weeks he went back to the war-torn country. “The Good Shepherd,” he wrote in a letter, “cannot abandon his people.” On July 25,  1981, at the feast day celebration of St. James, aware of his imminent danger, he told a sister that if they kill him, to go to the church and light a candle and sing songs of resurrection. Three days later, just after midnight, several men came to his rectory. In an effort to save the associate pastor, his brother and nine sisters in the convent across the patio, Fr. Stanly Rother gave himself and fought back as best he could. During the altercation, the men shot him in the head, murdering him, and ran off the premise. Upon hearing the news, the church square filled with those in mourning. So loved was Father Stanley Rother that while his remains went back to his hometown in Oklahoma, the people requested his heart remained enshrined in Guatemala.

He was officially recognized by Pope Francis in 2016, to be the first priest born in the United States to be martyred. Then in 2017 he was the first to be beatified.

He is loved by many being called to the priestly vocation. Our Lady of Lourdes pastor, Fr. J. Patrick Reynolds, years ago had a beautifully ornate quilt made by a local artist, which was displayed behind the relics inside the church. Mentioning he had attended the same seminary and how inspiring he found his story,

Fr. Pat quoted the word of Jesus, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” May we find the courage as Blessed Stanley Rother did to take up our cross and find meaning in the service of others.

Note: The Catholic Church’s teaching on relics is that relics are not meant to be worshiped but be treated with religious respect. Touching or praying in the presence of such an object helps a faithful focus on the individual’s life and virtues, so that through one’s prayer or intercession before God, they will be drawn closer to God. The relics are coming to the end of their tour and will soon be housed at St. Stephen Cathedral in the Blessed Sacrament reservation chapel in Owensboro, Ky.

On July 24, 2023, people venerate the relics of Bl. Stanley Rother and a quilt that Fr. J. Patrick Reynolds had commissioned by a local artist at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, Ky. RACHEL HALL | WKC

Information for this article was attained by the beatification homily preached by Angelo Amato on Sept. 23, 2017, and “Meet Stanley Rother” by Michale Heinlein of Simply Catholic

Rachel Hall is the director of communications for the Diocese of Owensboro. 

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