The Family That Prays Together Stays Together

Author: John Phalen, C.S.C.

The Family That Prays Together Stays Together

John Phalen, C.S.C.

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Fr. Patrick Peyton's birth

He grew up in a poor rural area of Ireland but with great zeal he brought literally millions of people closer to the Lord Jesus Christ by way of the family Rosary. This is the most important reason for the 100th year anniversary celebration taking place throughout 2009 in 17 countries around the world, commemorating the birth and mission of the Servant of God Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C..

Born on 9 January 1909, in Caracastle, County Mayo, Ireland, Patrick was the sixth of nine children in a family where often there were more people than potatoes to feed them. But every night without fail his father would lead the family in praying the Holy Rosary. This kept them spiritually nourished and united in difficult times.

The young Patrick did not do well in his early school years. More than the two-room schoolhouse which he attended, he appreciated the home and the example of his parents as "the best school, library, hospital and even church" he could ever attend. He grew close to his parish priest in Attymass at St. Joseph's parish and often served two early morning Masses a day, having walked about three miles to get to the parish. Patrick applied to two religious communities in Ireland but was refused because the family could not afford to pay for his education. He became upset and made up his mind not to be a priest after all.

One moving encounter with his father was later recounted by Fr. Peyton when speaking to huge gatherings. In Ireland there was what was known as an "American Wake", when a member of the family set out for America to find work. Pat and his brother Tom found themselves in this situation in 1928. The last words his father shared with him on this occasion were: "Be faithful to Our Lord in America". Pat would strive to do just that. He and Tom were never to see their parents again and he shed some tears on board as he watched his mother waving from the shore as he and his brother left their native land.

The brothers arrived in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where some of their sisters already lived. Tom worked in the coal mines while Pat accepted a job with the cathedral parish as a "sexton" or janitor. This gave him time to pray before the Eucharist, which revived his feeling of being called to the priesthood.

Pat and Tom presented themselves to the Holy Cross priests who came to preach a mission in the parish. Each proclaimed that he had a vocation to the priesthood. They entered the seminary at the University of Notre Dame, where Pat was delighted to study much harder at an institution named for Our Lady.

Pat turned out to be an excellent theology student, once he received the remedial help he needed completing high school. They were studying at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., when disaster struck.

Pat became deathly ill with tuberculosis. He was throwing up blood and getting weaker daily. He was transferred back to the Notre Dame infirmary. The illness had developed for nearly a year when doctors told Pat: "You had better try prayer. All that we have tried is not working!".

Pat was at his worst when a fellow Irishman, Fr. Cornelius Haggerty, C.S.C, came to give him a real challenge. "Mary is alive right here and now, Pat", he said. "She is a 100 'per-center', if you only believe it! You know how dedicated the Irish are to the Rosary. Well, pray it yourself, believing that Mary is alive and able to give you 100 percent of what you ask".

Pat prayed his Rosary more fervently than ever. And the impossible happened. After a novena of Rosaries, Pat declared himself cured! It was 8 December, 1939, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The doctors needed persuading to give him the tests that would prove him right: there was no trace of tuberculosis! Pat was thrilled as he returned to his studies, determined that if he was ordained a priest, he would dedicate his priesthood to the work of the one who saved his life: Mary.

The blessed day came 14 June 1940 when he was ordained with his class. His illness had set him back, so after a final year of theology study, and because of his delicate health, Fr. Peyton was assigned as chaplain to the Brothers of Holy Cross who taught at Vincentian Institute High School in Albany, New York. While praying, it came to Fr. Peyton how he would repay Our Lady for this miraculous healing. He would promote the Family Rosary all around the U.S.A.

Fr. Peyton saw much to do as "Mary's donkey", as he referred to himself. He was persuasive and focused. His energy was boundless. Many volunteered to help him from among the Brothers and a secretarial class at the high school and another at the College of St. Rose. He wrote to Bishops and anyone he could think of to help him promote the "family Rosary", which he founded in 1942.

People responded to his intensity. He gave "triduums" at parishes on weekends, always speaking with great affection of Mary's intercessory power and giving the story of his own healing as an example.

Fr. Peyton started leading the Rosary on radio, which was just coming into vogue. Though it was a small station in Albany, he saw it as an opportunity to multiply his voice and reach many more people. "If only I could reach 5 million people in the U.S.A.!", he thought.

With more and more success in Albany, Fr. Peyton was emboldened to seek a program on national radio. In New York City, he persuaded a non-Christian woman in charge of programming at the Mutual Broadcasting System, to give him time on the largest network in the U.S.A. She agreed on the condition that Fr. Peyton get a big Hollywood star. Trusting that Mary would guide him, he accepted the time and the condition.

He picked up the phone in Albany and asked the operator to get him Bing Crosby in Hollywood. He actually reached Crosby who agreed to be on his program. So Fr. Peyton picked up the phone again and asked the operator to get him the family of the five Sullivan brothers who were killed when their ship went down in the war, and the parents and sister agreed to lead the Rosary on the air. The program was broadcast on 13 May 1945, Mother's Day and also a National Day of Thanksgiving for VE (Victory in Europe) Day on 8 May. I seems the whole country was listening — 311 stations aired the program — when Bing Crosby spoke of the importance of family prayer. Cardinal Spellman of New York and even President Truman spoke. And that was the first time the nation heard the impassioned voice of the "Rosary priest" encouraging them to strengthen their family life by praying the Rosary together.

The success of that program led Mutual to offer Fr. Peyton a weekly time slot if he could deliver a dramatic program with the top stars and writers of Hollywood. More volunteers, including Hollywood celebrities and Holy Cross priests and brothers, joined Fr Peyton. He opened Family Theater Productions in Hollywood in 1947 to produce the Family Theater of the air radio series on Mutual.

He had gotten to know Loretta Young who said of him, "I never met a man so in love with a woman as Fr. Peyton was in love with the Blessed Mother". She starred in the first show on 13 February 1947, "Flight from Home", hosted by Jimmy Stewart. Though the shows were morality plays, the host could promote family prayer, and the famous slogan, "The family that prays together stays together", was written in 1947 for the program. It was heard weekly and became Fr Peyton's slogan and a household phrase. Family Theater of the air became one of the longest weekly radio dramas in history, lasting 22 years. Fr. Peyton had reached his 5 million listeners and more!

He did not stop there. In 1948 he began to organize huge Rosary rallies, called Family Rosary Crusades. He received invitations from Bishops around the world. In 1961 in San Francisco, 500,000 people attended his rally, judged by the Archdiocesan archivist in 2003 as the number one event in the Archdiocese's 150-year history. In Latin America a huge campaign reached millions: in 1962, 1 million in Colombia; 1.5 million in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1962; and 2 million in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1064. He also drew 2 million to his 1985 rally in the Philippines.

As if radio and the crusades were not enough, in the 1950s Fr. Peyton took on a massive film project, producing three feature-length epic dramas in Spain on the life of Christ, divided into the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. These films were seen around the world and were the first films many in Latin America ever saw. He continued to produce TV specials — dramas, documentaries and interview and variety programs — again featuring many of Hollywood's biggest stars.

Popes praised him. Bishops sought him out. Fr. Peyton became well-known for enlisting famous celebrities to witness to the power of faith and prayer. Before he died on 3 June 1992, Fr. Peyton had circled the globe and spoken to over 28 million people in person in crusades. He had reached countless millions more on over 600 radio and television shows and in film. His daring came from his gratitude to Our Lady for preserving his very life and priesthood. He spoke of nothing but the Blessed Mother, her Rosary, and the work of the Family Rosary and Family Theater Productions.

Today the work continues under the title Holy Cross Family Ministries. Family Rosary retreats and missions are preached, and materials (books, pamphlets, DVDs, award-winning radio and TV programs in various languages) are produced and distributed. A national billboard campaign encourages family prayer. Contests on themes related to the Family Rosary gain interest from the young, and school presentations instruct teachers and students on how to evangelize using the Rosary. More than 1.2 million Rosaries are distributed yearly from 17 international centers. The organization's website,, informs people of upcoming Rosary events and programs and allows those who use the internet to ask a world-wide audience to pray for their particular intentions.

The international Angelus Student Film Festival receives approximately 500 entries a year from new young filmmakers. Awards are given for films which portray the dignity of the human condition. The entertainment community finds in Family Theater Productions an outreach and a warm welcome in its "Prayer and Pasta" program, its R.C.I.A. and "Theology of the Body" offerings. The staff of Family Theater Productions carries on the mission of Fr. Peyton reaching out to the stars who wish to live their faith more deeply in Hollywood.

This 100th anniversary year began with a special novena of family Rosaries prayed around the world and continues with a premiere of a new DVD entitled "Rosary Stars: Praying the Gospel". Fr. Peyton would be delighted that sports figures and Hollywood stars continue to witness to the faith and lead a revival of interest in the Rosary through this DVD.

Rallies have been held as well. Holy Cross Family Ministries assisted in a Eucharistic Rosary Crusade in Dallas, Texas in 2005, which drew 25,000 people, and it sponsored a "Rosary Bowl" in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, in May 2007, which drew tens of thousands. On 6 June 2009, an anniversary rally will be held at the football stadium at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts, and another rally is planned in 2010 in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

Further anniversary events include a Family Retreat 7-9, August, at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana; a pilgrimage to Fr. Peyton's homeland of Ireland 5-13 October 2009; a 26 April Mass by the Cardinal Archbishop of Armagh at Attymass, Ireland where a new statue of the Servant of God Fr. Patrick Peyton will be unveiled and blessed; and talks and rallies in all17 countries where Holy Cross Family Ministries operate. Also, Marian music concerts in Peru, special prayer groups in Haiti, missions in Chile and Mexico, radio programs in East and West Africa, and television programs and assemblies of Family Rosary Crusade units in the Philippines are all a part of the anniversary celebration.

The cause for beatification of Fr. Peyton was declared in 2001 by the then Bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts, Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., (now the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston), who knew Fr. Peyton personally. No wonder that chapters of the Fr. Peyton Guild promoting his cause have sprung up around the world. It takes 30 Holy Cross priests, brothers and sisters and numerous lay people today to carry on the mission begun by this media pioneer.

This zealous priest has left the world a beautiful heritage. No doubt Mary continues to intercede for this mission as does Fr. Peyton himself. 2009 is the year to "Honor his memory and continue his mission". The year's 100th anniversary observance of his birth and the dynamic ministry of Holy Cross Family Ministries encourage more families to realize that "The family that prays together stays together". We need to imitate Fr. Peyton's zeal, a man who may one day be declared a Saint for families.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
18 February 2009, page 10

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