The Power of Witness
Less than two months before we celebrated the beatification of Bl. Solanus Casey at Ford Field in Detroit, we celebrated the beatification of the first U.S.-born man, Bl. Stanley Rother, who was martyred in Guatemala in 1981. Fr. Rother was killed for his witness to God’s love for those who were poor and on the margins of society.
Like Fr. Solanus, Fr. Rother came from a farm family and struggled with his seminary studies, particularly with the Latin that dominated the curriculum in the late 1950’s. In fact, he was dismissed from the first seminary he attended because they deemed that he lacked “the intellectual ability to continue to the priesthood.” Fortunately, another seminary gave him a chance, and whatever he may have lacked in academic ability he more than made up for with a spirit of generous service and hard work. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Oklahoma and Tulsa, and within five years of his ordination he volunteered for the diocesan mission in Guatemala. He served among the indigenous peoples of Guatemala as their pastor.
Because the church’s work among those who were poor and marginalized was deemed subversive by the Guatemalan military and political elites, Fr. Rother was among those targeted for assassination. Under that threat he returned to Oklahoma, but he couldn’t stay away from being with the people whom he had served for so many years. He soon went back to Guatemala, and shortly after his return he was killed.
The Winter 2017 edition of Extension magazine features an excellent article on the life, death and beatification of Fr. Rother. One thing that really stood out for me, however, was this:
The parish where Father Rother served was founded back in 1536. But during the 445 years between then and the death of Blessed Stanley Rother, there was not a single vocation to the priesthood from Santiago Atitlán. But since his death, the parish community had already produced nine priests, with another seven seminarians currently in formation—a remarkable confirmation of the early Christian theologian Tertullian’s famous quote: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians” (23).
A single courageous, humble and faithful witness has the power to awaken many vocations—and they don’t all have to be for the priesthood.
Some people look at the world and say that the age of heroes (women as well as men) has passed. I disagree. That age and the Spirit that is at the heart of it are still alive. Those heroes are still alive. We just need to notice them and, when called, to follow their example.—JC