Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thank You Father Rother!

Yesterday, the 28th of July, my in-laws and I headed out on the Northwest Expressway going – you guessed it – northwest to the little town of Okarche, birthplace of Father Stanley Rother. It was a hot, windy day on the Oklahoma plains, a good day for a pilgrimage.

Our destination was Holy Trinity Catholic Church, in Okarche, where we arrived a little before noon. For those who don’t know, a pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place or shrine; it can cover a long distance, or be a search for some exalted purpose or moral significance. In my case, this was a personal spiritual pilgrimage undertaken in honor of the 28th anniversary of Father Rother’s martyrdom. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve long wanted to tour this town, worship inside the church and perhaps even visit the grave of this inspirational priest. Several times, I planned to take my children, but something always came up. We had called our family homeschool, Father Stanley Rother Academy. We said the prayer for his canonization every morning as a part of our daily prayers … but somehow we never made the short trip to Okarche. I felt a little sad as I arrived and saw just how close the town was to us.

When we drove up, Channel 4 News¹ was interviewing a woman in front of Holy Trinity Church about why she had come today. She had tears in her eyes when she spoke about her admiration for Father. Was it my imagination, or did the questions coming from the interviewer and the camerawoman sound hostile? I handed the woman a tissue when the interview concluded.

Holy Trinity is a beautiful Gothic-style, stone and brick church, which is a well-known historical landmark in the area. Built in 1903, it is older than our state, and its outer magnificence is only surpassed by its interior serene beauty. I had come to do an hour of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in response to the write-up in our diocesan newspaper, The Sooner Catholic. (See page 15 of the July 12, 2009 edition for the article.) Even though my in-laws aren’t Catholic, “Mom” and “Dad” joined me for Holy Hour. It was their first experience of this particular Catholic tradition, but they were very used to attending other Catholic events with me, beginning almost twenty-five years ago when they attended our wedding in the chapel at RAF Mildenhall, UK.

After Adoration, we admired the small collection of memorabilia at the back of the church devoted to Father Rother, including some of his vestments. Then we photographed the outside of the church, including the statue pictured above, and went to lunch at the local Tower Café. Just as our food was set down before us, a nice-looking gentleman came up and said, “Didn’t I just see you over at the church a little while ago?” He was specifically addressing my father-in-law who said that yes, we’d just come from there.

With the warmest possible voice and manner and a smile as wide as an Oklahoma plain, he said, “I thought I recognized your bald head! Hi! I’m Tom Rother², Stan’s youngest brother.”

You could have picked me up off the floor … if Tom hadn’t sat down right next to me and blocked me into my booth seat! He proceeded to stay for the next twenty minutes—or so—and ‘shoot the breeze’ with us about “Stan”, their family, Oklahoma and Indiana—where my in-laws are from, farming, families in general, and just general ‘down home’ folk’s talk which just showed that farming and farming folk don’t know anything ‘bout state lines. Tom Rother, I discovered, was just a bit younger than my in-laws and they had a world in common. I reveled in just being the ‘fly on the wall’ for most of the conversation.

Tom had us laughing and feeling like we’d known him all our lives. As he was getting ready to leave, he said, “You are coming to Mass later at 5?” as if it wasn’t so much a question as a statement, and Dad said, “We should be coming back through just about then.”

We did some other sightseeing but we were back at Holy Trinity in time for Mass, after which Tom, and his lovely wife Marty, took us out to the graveyard. There we learned more family history, saw the family plot and gravestones and even encountered a representative and source for copies of The Shepherd Cannot Run ($10) and DVD, No Greater Love… The Story of Father Stanley Rother ($10), both of which I was looking for and will be reviewing in the not too distant future.

As we drove home, my own heart and spirit were soaring with gratitude and love. I have no doubt that Father Rother arranged everything, through Our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in the Communion of Saints!

Father Rother, your brother and his wife are such warm and wonderful people. I look forward to meeting you too someday! Thank you!

¹ I was told by a friend at work today that she saw me on the news last night. Ah! My three or four seconds of fame and I missed it! We didn't get home until almost nine and then we had a whopper of an Oklahoma hail and wind storm come through which left us without power for two hours, split our pear tree down the middle and knocked over the freestanding basketball hoop blowing out the rear windscreen of one of our old cars. Guess I was just a little bit busy... ☺

² The second picture is yours truly with Tom Rother standing behind Father Rother's grave.

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