De­catur Catholic con­gre­ga­tion first to be named in honor of Ok­la­homan

Westside Eagle-Observer - - FRONT PAGE - By Janelle Jessen

DE­CATUR — On Sept. 23, Fa­ther Stan­ley Rother, the first of­fi­cial mar­tyr born in the United States, was be­at­i­fied dur­ing a mass at­tended by more than 20,000 peo­ple in Ok­la­homa City, Okla. He is also the first U.S. priest to be be­at­i­fied.

The fol­low­ing day, Sept. 24, the De­catur Catholic com­mu­nity be­came the first church in the world to be named in his honor — The Blessed Fa­ther Stan­ley Fran­cis Rother Mis­sion — dur­ing a mass held at De­catur North­side Ele­men­tary School. The De­catur church is a mis­sion of St. Mary Catholic Church in Siloam Springs.

Rother, who was born to an Ok­la­homa farm fam­ily in 1935, be­came an or­dained priest for what was then the Dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City and Tulsa. He served in the dio­cese’s mis­sion in Gu­atemala for 13 years, ac­cord­ing to the web­site stan­ley­ Rother sought jus­tice for the peo­ple he served dur­ing a pro­tracted civil war, even though the en­vi­ron­ment was ex­tremely hos­tile to Catholics, the web­site states. He was even­tu­ally killed by three men who en­tered the rec­tory on July 28, 1981.

“From the on­set of his death, the peo­ple of San­ti­ago Ati­tlán, the Arch­dio­cese of Ok­la­homa City and the Dio­cese of Tulsa have be­lieved that Fa­ther Rother died for the faith. In 2007, his Cause for Can­on­iza­tion was opened,” the web­site states.

Pope Frances of­fi­cially rec­og­nized Fa­ther Rother as a mar­tyr for the faith on Dec. 2, 2016. His Right of Be­at­i­fi­ca­tion was cel­e­brated by Car­di­nal An­gelo Amato on Sept. 23 at the Cox Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in down­town Ok­la­homa City. Be­at­i­fi­ca­tion puts Rother on the path to be­com­ing can­on­ized as a saint.

Fa­ther Sal­vador Mar­quez-Munoz, the priest of St. Mary Catholic Church in Siloam Springs, at­tended the cer­e­mony in Ok­la­homa City

on Satur­day and presided over the cer­e­mony in De­catur, along with Bishop An­thony Taylor, who serves as bishop of the Dio­cese of Lit­tle Rock.

Mar­quez-Munoz has been hold­ing mass in De­catur for a lit­tle over three years. The con­gre­ga­tion has grown from 80 to 100 mem­bers and rented and ren­o­vated its own build­ing on Hill Street.

On Sun­day, Taylor gave an hour-long pre­sen­ta­tion about Rother’s life and min­istry so that lo­cal parish­ioners could learn about their pa­tron. The pre­sen­ta­tion was fol­lowed by a mass, af­ter which Taylor signed and stamped the pa­per­work mak­ing the De­catur church, which was pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered a chapel, an of­fi­cial quasi-parish or mis­sion. The De­catur mis­sion also has its own de­fined ter­ri­tory — the fur­thest north­west cor­ner of Arkansas, Mar­quez-Munoz said.

“You are be­com­ing es­tab­lished for­mally as a mis­sion due to, in large mea­sure, your com­mit­ment to Je­sus Christ and the mis­sion you have taken to live your Catholic faith in a place where pre­vi­ously there have been very few Catholics,” Taylor told the con­gre­ga­tion dur­ing the ser­vice. “It is also due to the ef­forts of our priests, in par­tic­u­lar, the ded­i­ca­tion of Fa­ther Sal­vador Mar­quez-Munoz … And it’s through your own ef­forts, for in­stance in rent­ing a church build­ing, and adapt­ing it for Catholic use.”

As a for­mal mis­sion, the church will still be de­pen­dent on neigh­bor­ing parishes for the ser­vices of a priest but will grad­u­ally grow more in­de­pen­dent, Taylor said.

“But please note, we are not ded­i­cat­ing a build­ing to­day,” Taylor said. “What we’re do­ing is estab­lish­ing you for­mally as a com­mu­nity. Af­ter all, the church is the peo­ple, not the build­ing, and it is you who are be­ing es­tab­lished as a quasi-parish, not the build­ing. That’s why we are able to have this cel­e­bra­tion in a school au­di­to­rium.”

The bishop pointed out that, in ad­di­tion to his main church and mis­sion church in Gu­atemala, Rother also served many iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties and vil­lages in the sur­round­ing area, sim­i­lar to the small com­mu­nity in De­catur. He also noted that the De­catur con­gre­ga­tion in­cludes quite a few Gu­atemalans, Sal­vado­ri­ans and oth­ers from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

“But the fact that you have Gu­atemalans here makes Blessed Stan­ley a dou­bly ap­pro­pri­ate name for your com­mu­nity,” Taylor said. “He is not only the first be­at­i­fied mar­tyr in the United States, he is the first from Gu­atemala, and ev­ery­thing I know about Blessed Stan­ley tells me that he would be de­lighted to have your com­mu­nity as the first one in the world named af­ter him.”

Photo by Janelle Jessen

In a cer­e­mony held in the De­catur North­side Ele­men­tary School cafeteria on Sept. 24, Priest Sal­vador Mar­quez-Munoz looks on as Bishop An­thony Taylor signs and stamps pa­per­work declar­ing the De­catur Catholic con­gre­ga­tion to be the first church in the...

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