- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Oklahoman. Dec. 6, 2016.

If the good people of Okarche are walking with an extra spring in their step today, it’s understandable. Few places, anywhere on earth, can claim a saint as a native son, but Okarche is on the doorstep.

Pope Francis on Dec. 2 recognized Father Stanley Rother as a martyr, which clears the way for Rother’s beatification. Beatification is the last step before canonization, or sainthood, in the Catholic Church.

Rother, killed in Guatemala in 1981, is the first U.S. priest named a martyr by the Church. The beatification ceremony could come next fall.

Archbishop Paul Coakley said the Church “needs heroic witnesses to advance the mission of Christ, and Father Rother was truly a heroic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Rother’s is an amazing story. Born in 1935, he was raised on a farm in Okarche, a town with a strong Catholic identity - German settlers were regularly celebrating Mass there by the early 1880s, and the town’s church, Holy Trinity, dates to 1903.

According to the archdiocese’s website, Rother began to feel a pull toward the priesthood while in high school. He eventually went to Assumption Seminary in San Antonio, where he struggled to learn Latin and, after six years, was asked to leave due to poor grades.

He was given a second chance, however, and enrolled at Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmetsburg, Maryland. He was ordained a priest in 1963, then served five years at parishes in Oklahoma before asking and receiving permission to move to the archdiocese’s mission in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

He fell in love with the people, and flourished as a priest. He helped establish a school and a health clinic for his impoverished community, and oversaw the translation of the Gospels into the natives’ language.

However, the Catholic Church got caught in the middle of a war between government forces and guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics were killed, with Rother’s name eventually appearing on a death list.

He returned to Oklahoma, but only for a short time. He insisted on returning to his mission at Santiago Atitlan. Just days after his return, he was murdered by three men who broke into his rectory in the middle of the night. He was 46. His body was returned to Oklahoma for burial, but his heart remained in Guatemala.

The work to try to get Rother named a saint began in 2007. In June of last year, a theological commission in Rome voted to formally recognize Rother as a martyr, and the pope recently agreed. Before Rother can be canonized, the Church will require that a miracle has occurred as a result of his intercession.

That can be a tall order. Yet Catholics across Oklahoma, and particularly in Okarche, continue to believe it will happen, and they look forward to the day when they’ll be able to say this wonderful state produced a truly selfless, holy man - a saint. Oklahomans of all faiths should hope it comes to pass.

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Tulsa World. Dec. 8, 2016.

Here’s the latest evidence that the state of Oklahoma doesn’t have enough money to supply fundamental state services: The Department of Public Safety recently announced that it has limited state troopers to traveling 100 miles a day.

Normally, Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers would travel 150 to 200 miles a day in their ordinary patrols, but because the DPS budget is falling short in a drastic way, the OHP has ordered cutbacks.

DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson says the choice isn’t safe, but it’s safer than the alternative he’s trying to avoid, trooper furloughs.

The OHP also sharply reduced the number of hours its aircraft will be flying and implemented a hiring freeze and a voluntary buyout.

That means there will be fewer troopers on the roster, less enforcement of state traffic laws and, we fear, slower response to emergencies. Other DPS positions, such as driver’s license examiners, also will remain vacant.

It’s hard to imagine how the cutbacks don’t make Oklahoma roads less safe, a toll to be counted in lives lost or damaged and property destroyed.

Blame the Legislature, which short-changed public safety and other essential state services in this year’s state budget.

While the cost might not play out in wrecked cars and lost lives, there’s equally compelling cases to be made concerning the inadequate state funding of public schools, higher education, mental health and many other core government services.

We hear again and again from state leaders that the secret is to make the state operate within its means, to cut the fat and keep the core. That’s effective rhetoric at election time because it promises something for nothing - government services without taxation.

It’s magical thinking that won’t convince the people injured or whose loved ones are killed in traffic accidents that the state couldn’t afford to avoid.

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Stillwater News Press. Dec. 11, 2016.

Do we have to expect a 2017 where we are constantly fighting for our way of life? That way of life being a comfortable living or the hope of a comfortable living in rural Oklahoma.

Forecasters in a recent Economic Outlook Conference pointed to some good things coming in this state, such as the bouncing back of oil prices, which would in turn spark production and be good for the state’s bottom line.

The mistake would be to see this as salve for our recent economic wounds. It would be at best a temporary bandage. We need much stronger medicine. It wasn’t just a declining oil industry that led Oklahoma into its billion dollar budget deficit.

There were a lot of factors and many of those factors deal directly with our state’s leadership. We gave away too much money in subsidies to companies that didn’t need them, we allowed for too many one-time revenue cash plugs and steered too much money away from the general fund.

Those are the kinds of problems that can creep back every year, regardless of how other areas of the economy like the job sector and housing are performing.

What can we expect next year? More oil field jobs, but possibly higher fuel prices. Tax breaks for businesses, yes, but still possibly hiring shortfalls as millennials migrate to other parts of the country. And, right now, population growth in Oklahoma is tied to urban areas.

Also, we have destructive earthquakes, so there’s that. But there’s hope. There always is, but we will have to provide it. We can’t let the bouncing back of oil close us off to innovation. We now should be well aware of what happens when we put too many of our eggs in one basket.

We may have to turn more of our focus on tourism, hospitality - earthquake museum - there’s an idea. We definitely need to invest in new industry and promote entrepreneurship with the type of incubators like Meridian Technology Center’s Center for Business Development or Oklahoma State’s Student Startup Central.

The point being made here, is that rural Oklahoma may become more and more disenfranchised with the decision-makers of this state, even though it may be on us to save it. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and always carry a handkerchief.


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