I’m beginning Lent far from Queens, in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where I’m leading a mission at St. Anne’s Catholic Church. (A grateful diaconal bow to Father Matt Gerlach for inviting me and offering such a warm welcome!) I had some free time Monday morning and decided to drive up to Oklahoma City to visit America’s newest shrine: the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine, dedicated just two weeks ago.

In a word: Wow. 

Out of a flat patch of land that used to be a golf course, they’ve constructed a spectacular and beautifully realized place of pilgrimage that many clearly believe will one day be the final resting place of a Catholic saint.

The main church — built to seat 2,000 — is impressive: massive, spacious, but not cavernous. I imagine the clear glass windows will one day be stained glass. But for now, the building welcomes bright light and feels both modern and traditional — as if it has been around for centuries, but finished just last month. It still smells new!

The real gem, though, is behind this main area.

Blessed Stanley Rother— son of Oklahoma, missionary to Guatemala, martyr for the faith — is buried beneath an altar in a chapel just past the main church. (His heart, which I’m told was found to be incorrupt, is still buried in the land he loved, Guatemala.)

In this chapel, after being transfixed by the altar, your attention is soon drawn upward.

Blessed Stanley Rother rests under a remarkable fresco that shows him being welcomed to heaven by martyrs that include St. Stephen, Oscar Romero and Joan of Arc.

Besides these key places for prayer and reflection, the new shrine has offices and two sacristy areas — one for vesting, one for storing and maintaining sacred vessels. You’d be hard-pressed to find any parish church with a sacristy like this.

The facility also has a museum. You can take a brief walking tour through the life of Stanley Rother.  Since so many who knew him are still alive, a lot of the items associated with his life and priesthood were readily available and able to be placed on display.

They even have the cake-topper from his ordination and a sweatshirt from his days in the seminary.

And — a personal favorite of mine — a snapshot from his ordination as deacon.

Of course, after you’ve spent time in the church and museum, you can visit a gift shop, which features an array of holy cards, rosaries, statues and books. I bought a tee shirt and a couple of rosaries. Oh: and a Tiny Saint!

Creating a pilgrimage site like this is not cheap — the final cost has been estimated at close to $50 million, with much of it coming from private benefactors — which has led a lot of people to say, “What would Stanley Rother think? How would this man who committed himself to the poor feel about this extravagant monument being built to him?”

The deacon from Oklahoma City who met me at the shrine and gave me a walking tour admitted, “He’d probably be embarrassed by it all.” I think so, too.

But a building like this has a life beyond just glorifying one holy man.

The people behind this project knew what they were doing. It’s being used as the home for two parishes in the area. As the largest Catholic church in Oklahoma — and one of the biggest in the region — it’s being booked for conferences, rallies and events that will draw thousands of Catholics to this corner of Oklahoma. That will undoubtedly fuel the local economy and energize the local church. It may well turn into a powerful and effective tool for evangelization; already, billboards along the interstate announce its presence and invite the faithful to visit. It is really something to see.

What would Stanley think?

As spectacular and extravagant as this site may be, I think Blessed Stanley Rother would be grateful that his priestly mission of evangelizing, uplifting and inspiring the faithful is continuing in the land where it began — not far from the Oklahoma fields where he grew up and where he first fell in love with the Lord and heard his call to the priesthood.

If you find yourself in the area, take the time to visit, reflect, pray and hope. May this new shrine be a place of renewed faith for our country, and maybe even plant seeds for vocations in young hearts who will discover the generosity, humility and dedication of a boy from Oklahoma — a boy who grew into a man who sacrificed everything for the God he loved and the people he served.

Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us!  

To learn more about Blessed Stanely, visit this site. And check out the video below.

O God, font of all holiness,
make us each walk worthily in our vocation,
through the intercession of your saints,
on whom you bestowed
a great variety of graces on earth.
Having graced your Church with the life of
your priest and martyr, Blessed Stanley Rother,
grant that by his intercession
this humble flock may reach
where the brave Shepherd has gone.
Grant that your Church may proclaim
him a saint living in your presence
and interceding for us all.
Through Christ our Lord.

Born March 27, 1935
Ordained May 25, 1963
Martyred July 28, 1981
Beatified September 23, 2017