The Rosary Priest
3/1/2018by Father Richard Gribble, CSC
Venerable Father Patrick Peyton was a joyful apostle who promoted family prayer and devotion to Mary worldwide
The green hills and rocky seacoast of County Mayo, in western Ireland, have been a seedbed of the Catholic faith for centuries. Devotion to the Mother of God took on special significance in the area when the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist, appeared to a group of country dwellers in the village of Knock in August 1879.
One son of Mayo, the Irish-American priest Father Patrick Peyton of the Congregation of Holy Cross, inspired Marian devotion around the world. A self-described “mule for Mary,” Father Peyton became internationally renowned for his work popularizing the family rosary during his 50 years of ministry, until his death in 1992.
Father Peyton, whose legacy continues to inspire, was declared Venerable by Pope Francis on Dec. 18, 2017.
UNDER MARY’S MANTLE
The sixth of nine children, Patrick Peyton was born Jan. 9, 1909, in Carracastle, on the eastern border of County Mayo. Like many in early 20th-century Ireland, Peyton’s family, led by his father, John, gathered every evening to pray the rosary. This became the foundation of his famous phrase, “The family that prays together stays together.”
Peyton’s priestly vocation began to develop during his childhood, as he assisted the priest at his local parish. Because of his family’s poverty and the fact that older brothers stood ahead of him to inherit the family farm, it became clear that his future was not in Ireland. When he was 19, he and his brother Thomas immigrated to the United States.
They settled first in Scranton, Pa., where their older sister Beatrice and her family had arrived earlier. Peyton worked briefly as a sacristan at the local church, but a mission preached by members of the Congregation of Holy Cross convinced him that priesthood was his true vocation. He and Thomas journeyed to the University of Notre Dame and entered Holy Cross Seminary in September 1929.
Peyton’s vocational dream progressed positively until October 1938 when, as a seminarian at Holy Cross College in Washington, D.C., he was diagnosed with an advanced case of tuberculosis. Doctors held little hope that he would survive. Encouraged by a priest, Father Cornelius Hagerty, Peyton prayed to the Virgin Mary, asking her intercession for his recovery. When Peyton’s tuberculosis soon disappeared, doctors could not explain it, but he certainly knew the reason: Mary had answered his prayer, and he would respond by dedicating his priestly life to fostering family prayer and love for the Blessed Mother.
THE FAMILY ROSARY
After his ordination in June 1941, Father Peyton received the rare privilege of beginning an independent apostolate. Based on family prayer and the rosary, the work was initially centered in Albany, N.Y.
“My work,” Father Peyton later wrote, “is to urge families throughout the world to pray united as families so that they can experience the family rosary for what it is, a powerful prayer to bring joy, peace and unity to troubled homes.”
He arranged for a national radio broadcast on May 13, 1945, with Bing Crosby as the host. The program was well received, leading Father Peyton to expand the scope of the apostolate and travel to Hollywood, Calif. At first, he knew virtually no one of significance, but famous personalities, Catholic and non- Catholic alike, soon became captivated by Father Peyton’s charm and total dedication to Mary and family prayer.
Father Peyton secured the service of dozens of stars — Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Shirley Temple and Maureen O’Hara, to name just a few — and inaugurated the “Family Theater of the Air” in February 1947. The actors volunteered their time to participate in weekly half-hour radio broadcasts that promoted family prayer and proclaimed, “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
From radio, Father Peyton moved into the new medium of television. He sponsored several 30-minute television specials, beginning with “The Road to Peace.” Again, celebrities came out in force to support Father Peyton, whose faith and dogged dedication were infectious.
A WORLDWIDE CRUSADE
While his radio ministry was ongoing and the television specials aired, Father Peyton started his most significant venture, which made him internationally known. In 1948, in London, Ontario, he inaugurated the first Family Rosary Crusade.
Leading a team of priests, religious and dedicated laity, and aided by the production of 15 special rosary films used for catechesis, Father Peyton crisscrossed the globe numerous times in the years that followed.
A lead team would come to a particular diocese a few months in advance to promote a rosary rally through newspapers, school conferences and preaching in parishes in North America, Europe, Australia, Africa, Asia and, finally, Latin America.
Each crusade concluded with an impassioned and heartfelt message that Father Peyton delivered to massive crowds, in some cases in excess of 2 million people.
Working with Father Peyton on the rosary crusades was joy-filled, but it was also a tiring labor of love. On one occasion, after Father Peyton had given his patented talk at a crusade in Spain in 1954, a gentleman named Jesús invited the exhausted workers to relax and attend a soccer match. Father Peyton, however, proposed that all should stay and pray the rosary in thanksgiving, suggesting that the Blessed Mother would approve. His team responded, “Mary might want us to pray, but ‘Jesus’ wants us to go to the soccer match.”
‘THE NARROW WAY’
While worldwide devotion to Mary through the rosary has waned in the last 50 years, the words of Father Peyton still ring true: “The person with the rosary in hand has the key to learning the most important of all lessons: the love of God for us, the destiny he has in store for us and the way he is helping us to reach that destiny.”
Father Peyton died peacefully on June 3, 1992, with a rosary in his hand. The organization that he started in 1942, Family Rosary, still operates today as part of Holy Cross Family Ministries (HCFM), which also includes Family Theater Productions and the Father Peyton Family Institute. Active in 16 countries with headquarters in North Easton, Mass., HCFM continues Father Peyton’s mission by means of counseling and spiritual assistance to families, media productions, online initiatives, and, of course, the promotion of family prayer.
During one of his talks at a rosary crusade, Father Peyton said, “The restoration of family prayer is a basic need, and if it is given the chance it will prove itself to be the most efficacious and powerful protection against the dangers of our age.”
As the world becomes more secular and the challenges for Catholic families increase, Father Peyton’s wisdom remains an inspiration to continue walking the path of discipleship.
“The essence of the Christian life is only this — the spirit of sacrifice,” Father Peyton taught. “There is no other way to bridge the gap between heaven and earth except by the narrow way of the cross.”
And in the words of Holy Cross Father Basil Moreau, founder of our congregation, “The cross is our only hope.”
Let us believe and profess the same. Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, pray for us!
HOLY CROSS FATHER RICHARD GRIBBLE is the author of American Apostle of the Family Rosary: The Life of Patrick J. Peyton, CSC (Crossroad, 2005).
Decades of Support
Father Peyton and the Knights of Columbus
From Father Patrick Peyton’s longtime friendship with Past Supreme Knight Luke E. Hart to collaborative efforts between the Supreme Council and Holy Cross Family Ministries today, the Order has been a strong supporter of Venerable Father Peyton’s mission for nearly 75 years. Here are 10 highlights.
1 Father Peyton wrote to then-Supreme Advocate Luke E. Hart July 16, 1944, to introduce the Family Rosary campaign and ask for the Order’s support. At the Supreme Convention in Toronto weeks later, the Supreme Council adopted a resolution to “endorse and recommend the program of the Family Rosary,” kicking off decades of support for Father Peyton’s ministries.
2 The Order sponsored a month of Father Peyton’s Family Theater radio program, supporting broadcasts in March 1948. Additional support followed, and in subsequent years councils played a role in coordinating broadcasts of the ministry’s programming on local stations.
3 Dawn of America, a film telling the story of Christopher Columbus and the role that the Catholic faith played in the discovery of America, aired on 286 stations during the week of Thanksgiving in 1953. The Order partnered with Holy Cross Family Ministries to bring an English-language version of the film, originally in Spanish, to American audiences.
4 The Knights of Columbus Board of Directors named Father Peyton an honorary Fourth Degree Knight in January 1956 — one of the few times the distinction was bestowed.
5 In a 1956 letter to Supreme Knight Luke Hart, Father Peyton wrote, “Only God and Our Blessed Mother will ever know how grateful I am for all that you, dear Luke, the Supreme Board and all of the Knights of Columbus have done to further the Family Rosary Apostolate. You will always be in my Masses and prayers.”
6 In a Feb. 26, 1962 letter, Luke Hart described spending time with Father Peyton: “His great piety, his unflagging zeal and his intense earnestness carry you away. You feel that you are in the presence of a saint and you want to share with him his hopes and aspirations and contribute what you can to the success of his efforts.”
7 In 1965, the Order donated $25,000 toward a series of rosary films that Father Peyton used to highlight Marian devotion around the world.
8 Father Peyton’s strong relationship with the Knights continued after the death of his longtime friend Luke Hart. He visited Supreme Knight John W. McDevitt in New Haven, Conn., in 1974 and Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant in 1989. Dechant’s promotion of Marian devotion complemented Father Peyton’s mission, and the Order continued its support of Family Rosary programs.
9 In 1992, the year Father Peyton died, the Order promoted the Family Rosary’s initiative to send rosaries to nations formerly part of the Soviet bloc, where Catholicism had suffered suppression under communism.
10 Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson was a speaker at the 2007 Rosary Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., a gathering sponsored by Holy Cross Family Ministries that brought some 50,000 people to pray the rosary together in the tradition of Father Peyton’s rosary crusades.