Perhaps the best way to introduce you to the book is through a conversation with María. I think you'll find, as I did, that you are touched by María and her spirit before you even get to the first gripping pages of this beautiful book about a holy and inspiring Servant of God.
Q. When and how did you first learn about Fr. Stanley Rother's story? What made you want to write a book about him?
Karen, I want to begin by thanking you for your interest in my book—and above all, for helping me spread the story of Oklahoma Martyr Father Stanley Rother! I am so happy to be “here” today.
The Church of Oklahoma has done a great job of making sure that the story of Father Stanley Rother is passed on from generation to generation. When we first moved to the state, my kids (who attended Catholic schools here) came home talking about the local priest who died in Guatemala—and I became intrigued! I wrote a few articles about Father Stanley for various Catholic publications. Years later, when the Archdiocese opened the cause and began working on this project, I was invited to be part of the Historical Commission, mostly working with the Spanish documents. This is the group that collected information on Father Stanley and prepared a report to send to the Vatican requesting to open his Cause for Canonization.
A year after our work was completed, our group traveled to Guatemala and made a pilgrimage to Santiago Atitlán the parish and village where Father Stanley lived and where he was killed. On that trip I also met our (then) new Archbishop, Paul S. Coakley. And it was Archbishop Coakley who invited me – and commissioned me, to write the book!
Working on this project and telling the story of this holy man has been such a privilege. Our world is so hungry for heroes! And this farm boy from Oklahoma who grew up to be a martyr for Christ is so much more than a comic book super hero. He shows us that we are all called to be holy where we are, as we are—and that is true heroism.
Q. Fr. Rother was from Oklahoma, where you currently make your home. How long have you lived in Oklahoma, and what brought you there? What has surprised you the most about Oklahoma and its people?
Our family moved from Texas to Oklahoma 22 years ago because my husband Michael came to teach at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. Michael and I met at the University of Texas Catholic Student Center, so we call ourselves displaced Longhorns living in Oklahoma Sooner-land. Since you’re in Nebraska, I think you understand what this fiery dynamic really means, especially during football season!
But since I was not born in either, I will risk offending both Texans and Oklahomans by saying that I think they have more in common than they do differences. The southwest is such a unique, colorful, friendly world. The people of Oklahoma are generous, welcoming, easy-going. Perhaps it’s living in tornado alley, but it takes a lot to rattle people here!
Coming from a Hispanic Catholic culture where being Catholic is the assumption, what has been a surprise and a great witness to me is how strong the Catholic Church is in Oklahoma, where Catholics comprise 3-6 percent of the population! When I hear colleagues talk about their state’s church experience, especially in the two coasts, I am reminded about how blessed we are to be living here. We have a strong and active Catholic community in Oklahoma – and a great leader in Oklahoma City’s Archbishop Coakley.
Q. What surprised you the most about Fr. Rother's story?
Stanley Rother was born in Okarche, Oklahoma, a small town northwest of Oklahoma City that was founded by German Catholic farmers. Like other farming towns up and down the middle of the country, the people in Okarche are close and take care of one another. It is here that Stanley Rother first learned the values of generosity, kindness, family-first, hard work, perseverance—and the importance of living out your faith.
I don’t know if Id’ say this surprised me, but I was certainly amazed by how well and how fully Father Stanley lived who he was—both here and as a missionary in Guatemala. The soil and the weather may have been different, but just as he fixed the machinery and worked the farm fields in Oklahoma, he did so alongside the Tz’utujil Mayan community in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. In fact, it was this natural disposition to share the labor with them, to break bread with them, and celebrate life with them, that made the community in Guatemala say of Father Stanley, “he was our priest.”
In his words and with his life, Father Stanley lived compassion… or co-passion. With humility and love he became one of them in order to show them – not just tell them – how much God loved them! He was, as my friend Pat used to say, God-in-the-skin for them.
In one of his final letters to the Church of Oklahoma, (the two dioceses that sponsored the Mission where he served), Father Stanley wrote, "Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom."
Q. If you could sum up the message of Fr. Rother's life in just one or two sentences, what would you say?
Father Stanley Rother is truly a saint of mercy! He fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, visited the sick, comforted the afflicted, bore wrongs patiently, buried the dead—all of it. He lived Mercy throughout his life—in the seminary, in the farm, in parish work, and of course, in the Guatemala mission. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy Father Stanley’s life reminds me that living Mercy is what God calls each of us to do, right where I am, today!
Q. What effect did writing about Fr. Rother have on you? Do you have a devotion to this Servant of God now? How did this book writing this book change you?
My writing is intrinsically connected to my spiritual life. I imagine that you feel this way, too, Karen. And working on this book, in particular, demanded so much of me that it was truly a prayerful experience.
I confess that for much of the time my prayer consisted of me telling God, “I can’t do this.” And God patiently reminding me, over and over, “this is my project. You just have to do your part.” God is so unbelievably patient with me.
Part of what made this a tough book to write was the timing. During the year I spent researching and beginning to write the book, I had a number of major life events – the illness and death of two close friends, taking care of my father during several health crises—the type of things that drain and derail! I felt helpless in every direction, including my writing. Finally, a good friend suggested that I simply invite Father Stanley into my crazy life, as it was, that I let him walk with me through all these life events. It was beautiful… and it transformed me.
When I finally got serious about completing the manuscript I realized that those difficult and painful life events that I went through during the year were precisely what allowed me to have a profound insight and understanding into Father Stanley’s life during that last year of his life -- as he watched the people he loved so much endure suffering and death.
And the book continues to change me, Karen! Just today I received a letter from a nun in San Antonio who knew Father Stanley and who is delighted to finally have a way of telling people more about the priest she met in Guatemala who transformed her life. These are all God-things, not about me.
So I’m reminded again that all I have to do is continue to try to do my part!
Thank you for allowing me to share his story with your readers, Karen. It’s been a delight to be here today.