Father Stanley Rother left his heart in Guatemala.
His body is in Okarche, but his heart is in Guatemala, buried underneath the chapel in Atitlan.
Rother was assigned to Guatemala in 1968.
“He was really a good fit there because down there it was rural and a lot of people farm. And so he knew a lot of techniques,” said Rother’s first cousin, Harold Wittrock.
Among his many accomplishments at the parish in Santiago Atitlan was the translation of the New Testament into the local Mayan language.
“It seemed like every time he began something that would help the people where they would advance, all of a sudden the government didn’t like that because they liked to keep the people poor,” Wittrock said.
In January in 1981, Rother was accosted on the streets of Guatemala City. He was told he was on the death list and should leave the country immediately. He left, but knew he couldn’t stay away for long.
“My people need me,” he said to an archbishop. “I can’t stay away from them any longer.”
“When he was here the last time, he just wasn’t happy. That was his family down there and the people were his family and they really admired him,” Wittrock said.
Rother returned to Guatemala in April. While he was there, he said that several hundred Guatemalan troops were camped at the edge of his parish in Santiago Atitlan.
After midnight on July 28, assassins entered the rectory and shot Rother twice in the head.
“If Stan would have been quiet and did his job and not confronted them, then he would have probably been OK. But Father Stan came from a father who was very outspoken,” Wittrock said.
The canonization process for Rother began in 2007. If accepted, he would be the first Oklahoman who became a saint. But at the end of his life, Rother connected more with his Guatemalan family than his Oklahoma family.
When the people of the Santiago Atitlan requested that his heart remain in Guatemala, his family allowed it.
So even though Father Rother’s body is in Oklahoma, his heart will always be in Guatemala.