OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Thousands of people filled the sidewalks outside of the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine Friday morning to witness history.
A long-awaited ceremony was held to honor Blessed Rother and to dedicate the shrine.
According to the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, Blessed Rother grew up on a farm in Okarche, Oklahoma. He was ordained as a priest on May 25, 1963 and served as an associate pastor for five years in Oklahoma.
Blessed Rother spent time surrounded by extreme poverty in Guatemala where he joined the staff at the Oklahoma diocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan. There, he served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil, who are decedents of Mayans. Father Rother learned Spanish and the Tz’utujil language in order to celebrate Mass in their language and to help translate the New Testament.
Officials say on July 28, 1981, around 1 a.m., Father Rother was killed during the civil war between the militarist government forces and the guerrillas.
On December 1, 2016, Pope Francis recognized Father Rother as a martyr for the faith. He is first martyr from the United States and the first U.S. born priest to be beatified, according to the Archdiocese of OKC.
Although it has been decades since Blessed Rother has passed, people say they still feel connected to him.
Dillon Pariseau, Tristan Lyons, and Tristen Perrault drove from Missouri early Friday morning to witness the shrine dedication to Blessed Rother.
“It’s pretty overwhelming. We got up at four in the morning to drive here from Missouri, and, yeah, it’s been pretty overwhelming just to be here and exciting,” said Pariseau.
Pariseau said they were hoping to be inside during the dedication, but they showed up right as the church hit max capacity.
The three friends from Missouri watched the dedication from outside with about 100 hundred other people.
There were outdoor monitors and loud speakers for those who couldn’t make it inside.
“It’s just very beautiful,” said Perrault.
Lyons said he wasn’t expecting a shrine so “massive,” but once he saw it, “Beautiful property. All these people here, all just like, united together, praising God. It’s amazing, man. It’s overwhelming 100%.”
Pariseau explained he knew he had to be in Oklahoma City for this dedication.
He stated he recently found out he was a “very distant relative of Blessed Stanley Rother.”
“I found this out when I was doing some of my missionary work and yeah, upon hearing that, I just was very drawn to his life and his martyrdom and when I found out there’s a shrine being erected in his honor, I just felt like I had to come down for it,” said Pariseau.
The Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine is now the largest Catholic church in Oklahoma. It was built to seat 2,000 people.
Along with it, a pilgrim center and museum have also opened to the public.
For more information, visit rothershrine.org.