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The Rosary Priest


By Rose Wagner

The Cause for Sainthood for Father Patrick Peyton, an honorary Knight, has been advanced by Pope Francis.

Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C.

Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., founder of the Family Rosary Crusade, was made an honorary Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus in 1956. He is shown after receiving his lapel emblem from then-Supreme Knight Luke Hart at a meeting of the board of directors in New York on Jan. 15.

On Dec. 18, Pope Francis advanced the cause of Father Patrick Peyton, founder of Holy Cross Family Ministries, naming him “venerable.”

Known as the “Rosary Priest,” Father Peyton’s life was characterized by his great devotion to the rosary, which began when he was a seminarian in Washington, D.C., in 1938. That year, when he was gravely ill with advanced tuberculosis, young Patrick was encouraged to surrender his life — and his illness — to the Blessed Mother. After he prayed the rosary, his lungs completely cleared and he was able to be ordained as a priest with the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1941.

By 1956, just over a decade and a half later, Father Peyton’s devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary was known in nearly every Catholic family’s living room.

So how did the gratitude of a young priest change to a global mission? 

Convinced by the power of the media to influence the nation, Father Peyton knew Catholic programing was essential. With the help of funding from Bing Crosby, whose well-known character in Going My Way is like a fictional counterpart to Father Peyton’s real-life experience as an Irish immigrant priest, Peyton produced his first national Catholic radio hour on Mother’s Day, May 13, 1945.

Incredibly, the radio program featured not only Bing Crosby, but also Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York and President Harry Truman, who spoke together about the importance of family prayer on national airwaves.

The show was the start of Family Theater Productions in 1947. Its mission: To inspire and entertain families. Producing more than 800 radio shows and 83 TV specials, Father Peyton worked with the great Hollywood names of his day including Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Rosalind Russell, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan, James Dean, Bob Newhart, Jack Benny, Loretta Young and Frank Sinatra. His productions kick-started the careers of countless others, including two currently well-known household names — film producer/director George Lucas had his first film credit (as an assistant cameraman) for a 1960 Family Theater Production, The Soldier, starring William Shatner.

One classic film, Dawn of America, was co-produced with the Knights of Columbus. The 54-minute production told the story of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.

Each show would end with a message from Father Peyton: “The family that prays together, stays together.” It became a household maxim in the homes of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In 1948, he began leading international rosary rallies. These “Rosary Crusades” saw the attendance of millions in countries throughout the world — one rally in San Francisco was attended by 500,000 people, while one in the Philippines was attended by 2 million.

On Jan. 15, 1956, then-Supreme Knight Luke Hart bestowed on Father Peyton the privilege of being an honorary Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus.

Today, the Knights of Columbus continues to work with Father Peyton's Holy Cross Ministries. And as Father Peyton’s cause for sainthood continues, Knights find inspiration in his dedication and remarkable efforts in providing family-friendly programing. In this age of media, he is the perfect model for inspiring each one of us to share the joy of being Catholic, the importance of family unity and the beauty of the rosary.

Listen to early radio productions: http://www.familytheater.org/Radio/ClassicRadio.aspx.