Decatur Catholic congregation first to be named in honor of Oklahoman
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 stanleyrother.org. 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.”
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 world named in honor of Stanley Rother, the first U.S.-born priest to be declared a martyr and to be beatified.