Fr Rother was killed by a death squad in Guatemala in 1981
Fr Stanley Rother’s distant cousins from Minnesota planned to be in the crowd attending the beatification ceremony of the martyred priest in Oklahoma City.
“We’re all very proud,” Lee Rother said of his third cousin’s upcoming beatification, adding that he feels special that his family has a saint who can intercede for them and now the whole world.
Lee, 78, has made a point to learn as much as he can about this distant cousin from Okarche, Oklahoma, who was just a few years older than him.
The cousin keeps a thick file of news clippings, including a lengthy feature on the priest from 2006, when the canonization cause started to pick up steam. It was 25 years after Fr Rother was gunned down in 1981 in the Guatemalan village where he ministered.
Lee also keeps a copy of a report written about another Okarche cousin, Sandra Rother McGougan, who credits an unlikely deathbed recovery to Fr Rother’s intercession. She was in a car crash in 1992.
The 22-year-old was pronounced brain dead and was being kept alive only for organ donation, but her mother begged for a second opinion, and doctors discovered some brain activity. It was later determined she had suffered a rupture in her brain stem. Doctors weren’t optimistic she would live, but the family prayed for Fr Rother’s intercession. Sandra fully recovered, much to her doctors’ amazement.
Her story was among the documents sent to the Vatican to support the priest’s canonization. Not included was Lee Rother’s own story, which he also considers miraculous, thanks to his cousin’s intercession. In June 2016, Lee suffered a stroke. He prayed to Fr Rother and experienced a full recovery within two days, he said.
“I think he helped me,” he said, “(but) I can’t prove it, you know,” he told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
He regularly asks for Fr Rother to pray for him and his family, he said. He also has presented his cousin’s story at his parish, St Joseph in West St Paul. He has visited Fr Rother’s former grave site in Okarche. At his last visit in April, the grave was covered with stones and mementos from people praying for healing. The priest’s body has since been re-interred in the chapel at Resurrection Cemetery in northwest Oklahoma City.
Lee likes to retell the stories from his Oklahoma cousins who knew Fr Rother well. For example, he said the last time his cousin Vince saw the priest, Fr Rother told him, “Whatever happens, happens.”
Lee also said Fr Rother’s father, Franz, was in the field when archdiocesan leaders arrived to tell him the news of his son’s murder. Franz knew immediately what had happened, Lee said. “It hit his parents hard — very, very hard.”
A younger cousin, Gary Rother, sees the priest as a fascinating member of the Rother family tree. Pouring over genealogy software, he deciphers the relationship web that links him to his saintly third cousin.
He first heard of Fr Rother not from family, but from a 2006 St Anthony Messenger article about the priest. With the same last name, Gary, 73, figured they must be related and began his homework.
Gary, who attends Holy Name in Minneapolis and St John the Baptist in New Brighton, is struck by the fact that Fr Rother “was a simple, ordinary man who became great,” he said. “He reached out to everyone.”
Several cousins were going to the beatification on a bus trip organized by St Elizabeth Ann Seton in Hastings.
The 27 people scheduled to take the 11-hour trip to Oklahoma City included Fr Martin Siebenaler, a retired priest who grew up among Rothers in Minnesota, and several Rother cousins, including Faith Siebenaler, 61, communications and stewardship coordinator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
She said her parents stayed with Fr Rother’s parents on their honeymoon, but she didn’t know anything about Fr Rother’s story until his beatification was announced.
“It’s been an eye-opener,” she said. “I am so excited. … What a beautiful testimonial, in reading his writings … and how he so faithfully cared for the sheep and never batted an eye.”