The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run

Father Stanley Rother, Martyr From Oklahoma

By María Ruiz Scaperlanda

272 pages, $19.95

Our Sunday Visitor, 2015

To order: osv.com/shop/

 

Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda has written a book recounting the story of Father Stanley Rother, a Dust Bowl Oklahoman who was martyred in Guatemala at the tender age of 46.We live in a new age of martyrs. We recognize that Christians are in danger all over the world, in places like Syria, India, China, Nigeria and the world over.

Scaperlanda details the life of Father Rother, or “Padre Francisco,” as he was called by the native Tz’utujil people in Guatemala. Recounted are his earliest days and the inspiration he received from the missionary priest who served his parish, through his seminary formation and desire for missionary work.

The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run features firsthand accounts of the life of Father Rother, including extensive interviews with his siblings and friends, excerpts from his personal correspondence and diaries, and the recollections of many of the people he served. Scaperlanda traces the development of Father Rother’s vocation and the zeal he developed for missionary work and paints a picture of a man who stubbornly refused to be deterred by any threat of harm or even death.

Scaperlanda’s engaging writing is evident in this exemplary passage detailing an encounter that had a profound effect on Father Rother’s life:

“There is no written record of the details of Ramon Carlin’s lunch discussion with Stanley Rother. Yet we know the most important fact: Tex Carlin invited Stanley to join the mission team — and within hours, the same young man who once wrote in his journal ‘voluntas Dei,’ vowing to follow God’s will in his life when his life and vocation seemed most uncertain, had said ‘Yes.’ Oklahoma’s Bishop Victor Reed appointed Father Stanley to the Guatemala mission … effective mid-June 1968.”

When it was discovered in 1981 that Father Rother’s name had been put on a death list of sorts, he briefly returned to Oklahoma. However, he could not be kept from his people. He could not abandon them to a fate which he fled. In spite of the danger, and in spite of the fear so many of his loved ones had, he returned to Guatemala. In a matter of months, he would be dead.

At a time in which the world is growing acutely aware of the ongoing and global issue of Christian persecution and martyrdom, Scaperlanda’s book is a powerful profile of a simple and holy man who did nothing but what he thought was right, and what God wanted, and gave his very life for the sake of his friends and his flock.

The book largely portrays Father Rother’s saintly and heroic qualities, which are evident and certainly not in question. Perhaps the book would have been better served had it included an exploration of his shortcomings and struggles — or, perhaps, these were genuinely difficult to find.

Scaperlanda’s book tells us the story of a loving shepherd who sacrificed himself to the wolves for the sake of his sheep. May his example be a seed which yields great fruit.

Paul Senz writes from

 Portland, Oregon.