Nebraskans celebrate priest-cousin’s beatification
Doris Horne of Columbus was particularly moved as the large, colorful banner of her cousin, Father Stanley Francis Rother, was unveiled immediately after the reading of the apostolic letter declaring him "Blessed."
"When that curtain dropped, exposing that banner, everyone was cheering," said Horne, a member of St. Bonaventure Parish. "It was very dramatic."
The Sept. 23 unveiling, which took place at the beatification Mass for Father Rother at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, was seen by an overflow crowd of 20,000 people, including Horne and more than 40 other Nebraska relatives of Father Rother.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, was the main celebrant of the Mass. He was joined by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City and his predecessor, retired Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran, who formally opened the Rother sainthood cause 10 years ago.
Another Nebraska connection to the sainthood cause is Anne McGuire, director of liturgy and music at St. Pius X Parish in Omaha. McGuire taught theology in Oklahoma when the sainthood cause began, and served on the canonization commission for Father Rother, assisting in particular with the theological inquiry.
"I felt quite privileged to be part of it," said McGuire, who also attended the beatification and plans a 1 p.m. Oct. 22 presentation at St. Pius X Church about Father Rother and Father Solanus Casey, a Capuchin Franciscan who grew up in Wisconsin, served the poor in Detroit and will be beatified Nov. 18.
Horne recalled that 11 years ago, she was among family members who traveled with Archbishop Beltran to Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Father Rother’s death. He was murdered in a church rectory in that town in 1981, after serving 13 years as a missionary in Guatemala.
"We were so glad we went," Horne said. "It was a big celebration."
Now one step from sainthood, Father Rother was popular with the people of his parish, who called him "Padre Francisco." They worked side by side, and he taught them farming practices he learned in Okarche, Okla., where he grew up. Father Rother also learned Tz’utujil, the language of the Mayan descendants who were his parishioners, and helped translate the Bible into Tz’utujil.
Father Rother helped build a small hospital, school and the area’s first Catholic radio station. Though quiet and unassuming, Father Rother eventually began to receive death threats, one of many priests and religious in Guatemala who became targets during the country’s 1960-96 civil war. Despite the threats, he returned only occasionally to Oklahoma, and on his last U.S. trip in 1981 felt the need "to return to his people no matter what the consequences," Archbishop Beltran said at the beatification.
About three months later, three men wearing masks entered his rectory at night and fatally shot him, Archbishop Beltran said. His feast day will be celebrated on the day he was killed, July 28.
Horne said her cousin’s service and courage made a deep impression. She never met him personally, but she often heard about him from her mother, the late Theresa Wemhoff.
Horne’s daughter, Christine Salerno of St. Isidore Parish in Columbus, also heard Wemhoff’s stories about Father Rother. Salerno was among the travelers with Horne to the beatification.
To see Father Rother canonized was a longstanding dream of her grandmother’s, Salerno said. And the beatification was an incredible event for everyone at the convention center, she said.
"It was absolutely amazing," she said.
The Sept. 23 beatification Mass for Father Rother at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City,