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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Catholic community in OKC will have a new gathering place coming Fall of 2022. Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine is still under construction after the 22.5-ton dome was lifted and installed in place in August of 2021.

The Shrine will become the biggest gathering place for Catholics in the whole state of Oklahoma. The sanctuary itself is around 38,000 square feet and the whole site takes up 52 acres.

The church, located east of Shields Boulevard on Southeast 89th Street, will seat 2,000 people.

The 40 million dollar project is expected to attract visitors and pilgrims from all over the world.

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A computer-generated image shows what the building complex will look like once completed. (provided by ADG)

The plan includes the construction of a pilgrim center with a museum displaying artifacts from Father Rother as well as a replica of the famous Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. 

The hill on the west side of the shrine will have the statue of Lady of Guadalupe, patron of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and of the Americas, as well as a statue of Saint Juan Diego, who witnessed 3 Mother Mary apparitions on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. 

The church will entomb the late Father Stanley Francis Rother, declared martyr of his faith in 2016 by Pope Francis.

Construction

Boldt is the construction company for the project and is currently working on the roof tile installation of the church.

Once the roof tile is installed, most of the exterior work will be done and make way for the dry-in process so workers can start doing dry-walls, floors, electrical, and other interior finishes like painting and moving in furniture.

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View of the altar inside the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine construction December 21, 2021. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

Tepeyac Hill is mostly done and the pilgrim center building is starting to rise.

Boldt plans to finish the construction by the Fall of 2022 and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City will offer the first service soon after that.

Father Rother

Stanley Francis Rother was born in Okarche, Oklahoma in 1935.

After high school, the young Rother left his farmer upbringing and enrolled in a Texas Seminary hoping to become a priest.

Studying Latin proved challenging. After six years, he was advised to withdraw due to academic reasons. But, after that disappointment, he persuaded the bishop to allow him to find another seminary to attend which he did successfully.

That same year he was ordained and came back to Oklahoma to serve as an associate pastor. 

After five years in Oklahoma, he moved to Santiago de Atitlán, Guatemala, and became the priest of the village.

Father Rother also known as Padre Francisco, served the mostly indigenous community until he was murdered in the rectory of the church 13 years later. 

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The top of Tepeyac Hill is still empty. The statue of Lady of Guadalupe and of Saint Juan Diego will be installed to replicate the famous Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. (PABLO ANGULO-GONZALEZ/Okla City Free Press)

Santiago de Atitlán, Sololá, Guatemala

Father Rother arrived in Santiago de Atitlán in the Solalá department (state) of Guatemala during an unfolding civil war.

Santiago de Atitlán, mainly populated by the Tz’utujil indigenous people, was the capital of the Tz’utujil before colonial times.

He spent 13 years within the community learning both Spanish and Tz’utujil language and connecting with the community at a time where social leaders were being targeted as enemies of the Guatemalan Government.

Throughout the many years of service, Padre Francisco helped the local community create crop co-ops and contributed to the opening of a radio station and school. 

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Father Stanley Rother during a carnival in Guatemala. (Archdiocese of Oklahoma City)

He also helped translate the gospel into the local Tz’utujil. 

As the civil war continued, the Guatemalan Army established a base next to Santiago de Atitlán where the murders, tortures, and disappearances increased. 

The situation took a dire turn for the rural Oklahoman priest when he found out his name was on a death list alongside his associate pastor. 

After 12 years of serving the community in the small Guatemalan village, Father Rother traveled back to Oklahoma in response to the death threats.

In December of 1980, he wrote a letter to the Oklahoman Catholic community stating:

“This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.”

He returned to Guatemala to spend Easter within his community.

Father Rother was shot twice by unknown assailants in the rectory of Santiago de Atitlán’s church around 1 am July 28, 1981, at the age of 46.

Blessed Stanley Rother

After his death, hundreds of Guatemalans showed up for his funeral service. 

He was soon entombed in Okarche but his heart was kept in Santiago de Atitlán’s church where the community built a shrine in his honor.

His body was taken from Okarche to Oklahoma City where it rests near the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

The Catholic Congregation for the Cause of Saints approved Father Rother’s status as a martyr with “justified validity” in 2012 after a long process of submitting information by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma with the help of the Archdiocese of Solalá.

The congregation oversees the validity of the requests for priests to become saints. 

The first step in the process of sainthood is to be accepted as a martyr which then clears the way for beatification.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, celebrated the ritual of beatification in front of more than 20 thousand people in 2017 in downtown Oklahoma City, a year after Pope Francis approved Father Rother’s martyrdom.  

The sainthood, also known as canonization, of Father Stanley Rother will be granted after a miracle is proven to occur posthumously.

The Blessed Stanley Rother will be entombed inside the Oklahoma shrine once it is finished.

Beginning of Beatification Mass
Beginning of Beatification Mass at Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Sept 23, 2017. (file, BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Last Updated December 23, 2021, 12:16 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor