Stanley Rother, a priest of the Oklahoma City Archdiocese murdered in Guatemala in 1981, was declared a martyr on Friday by Pope Francis.
Catholic officials in Wichita are watching the Rother story unfold with interest because the Wichita Diocese has spent years helping the Vatican determine whether the Rev. Emil Kapaun of Kansas should be declared a martyr, a move that could possibly speed up a determination of whether he should be declared a saint.
The Rev. John Hotze, the priest who has helped the Vatican study Kapaun, on Friday posted Rother’s story on a Facebook page dedicated to Kapaun’s sainthood work.
“The work on Fr. Rother’s cause began about a year before we started our work on Fr. Kapaun,” Hotze wrote. “They sent their information to Rome in 2010, while we were able to complete and send Fr. Kapaun’s information in 2011.”
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The Oklahoma City Catholic archdiocese, on its website, said Pope Francis’ declaration makes Rother the first American-born martyr of the church. The church has declared Rother and Kapaun “servants of God,” the first rung of the long ladder toward sainthood.
Kapaun was a farm kid from Pilsen who joined the priesthood, then joined the U.S. Army as a chaplain in World War II. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013 for battlefield heroism during the Korean War.
He died of starvation and illness in a North Korean prisoner of war camp in May 1951 after defying camp guards and organizing banned prayer services among the POWs.
Rother was a farmer’s son who was murdered in his church rectory in 1981 by what was believed to be a right-wing death squad. He had volunteered to work and advocate for desperately poor people in the Roman Catholic mission at Santiago Atitlan in southwest Guatemala.