The priest who coined the phrase “The family that prays together stays together” is one step closer to sainthood. On Dec. 18, Pope Francis declared Father Patrick Peyton of the Congregation of Holy Cross a “Venerable,” meaning the Holy Father deemed the Marian-devoted priest lived a life of heroic virtue.
The news came 25 years after the death of Father Peyton, known worldwide as “The Rosary Priest.”
“Even though we knew it was coming, it was still a wonderful, surprising feeling of the reality of grace at work in this whole process,” said Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, the president of Holy Cross Family Ministries (HCFM.org). “We’ve been waiting for 25 years for this, and certainly the last 20, since the cause opened.”
The congregation’s Holy Cross Father David Marcham, who has worked on the cause as vice postulator, is inspired by the people he’s met who have asked for Father Peyton’s intercession or who have written to say their prayers were answered through his intercession. “Some of those people have been in contact with us and expressing their great joy,” he said. He finds it “really uplifting to be able to share this great news with so many.”
This latest step has the added benefit of bolstering Father Peyton’s mission (FatherPeyton.org), which includes Family Theater Productions, based in Hollywood, Family Rosary, CatholicMom.com, Father Peyton Family Institutes, and active offices in 16 countries, including the Philippines, India and East Africa.
Father Raymond said he “sees this as a providential opportunity to introduce Father Peyton to a whole new generation of young people.”
Father Peyton’s mission began when he was stricken with tuberculosis as a seminarian.
“He prayed his Rosary to the Blessed Mother and made a miraculous recovery,” recalled Father Raymond. “From that moment, he knew he was to be the one to carry out her apostolate, her ministry to bring families together for Rosary prayer, just as his family had done.”
A year after his ordination in 1941 he founded Family Rosary and then added radio. By 1947, he founded Family Theater Productions, which produced 900 radio and TV programs featuring hundreds of major actors.
In 1948, he began worldwide “Rosary Crusades,” leading 40 enormous rallies. These events drew 28 million people, including 2 million in Manila and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Father Raymond sees “a link between the centennial of Our Lady of Fatima and the importance of her message for the 20th and into the 21st century and Father Peyton’s link to the family [prayer and Rosary].”
It was May 13, 1928, the anniversary of the apparition at Fatima, that Patrick Peyton and his brother Tom left Ireland for the United States. One of nine Peyton children, Patrick brought with him the rich faith he learned from his parents, including praying the Rosary together each evening.
Father Marcham also sees the providential connection.
“The 100th anniversary of Fatima directed a very strong spotlight on praying the Rosary and its efficacy,” he said. “That ties in with Father Peyton’s message for families to come together, pray the Rosary together and experience the fruits that come from that.”
The vice postulator understands that “both are a call to action with the promise of fruitfulness.”
A Peyton-Inspired Example
When Michael and Margaret Dwyer were married, both were high-powered political workers. She worked for the governor of Massachusetts. In the first five years of their marriage, they had to deal with the deaths of five immediate family members while at the same time raising the start of their family of four children, now ages 10 to 19.
Margaret had a strong Catholic foundation from childhood, but said it wasn’t defining their life in those early married years.
“Then someone witnessed to me about the Rosary and gave me a card from the ministry, the result of Father Peyton’s life work,” she said. With both of her parents in hospice care and the children in school, she committed to the Marian prayer with Michael.
“We both prayed the Rosary in the car when commuting to work and at night together after the children were in bed during those emotional roller-coaster times,” she explained.
Margaret has found “the Rosary has a profound way [of connecting her to prayer] when meditating on the Gospel and Jesus and Mary. You take it to heart.”
Soon, the parents witnessed to the children about praying the Rosary. The family made their own large papier-mâché rosary and pray the Sorrowful Mysteries every Good Friday.
When work brought the family to Easton, Massachusetts, Margaret found herself at Holy Cross Family Ministries’ daily Mass. Her connection to “The Rosary Priest” remains a blessed one.
Margaret recounted how Father Peyton was not initially accepted into a seminary, but in God’s time “ended up preaching to 28 million people,” leading her to observe that ordinary people are called to do extraordinary things. “We’re all called to make an extraordinary expression on those [things] God puts in our pathways.”
The Next Steps
Now that Father Peyton has been named “Venerable,” Father Marcham is working on the next step toward beatification: The Congregation for the Causes of Saints needs to approve a possible medical miracle or healing through Father Peyton’s intercession.
“At this point, it can be a miracle already reported that’s been examined and documented,” said Father Raymond.
While full details cannot be released at the moment, one possible medical miracle occurred in 2005 in Africa; that case has been sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It involves two family members, both healed from a life-threatening disease. They prayed with Holy Cross fathers for Father Peyton’s intercession. To date, both are symptom-free of the disease.
There are also plans underway in North Easton, Massachusetts, where Father Peyton is buried among fellow Holy Cross fathers and brothers in the congregation’s cemetery.
The time between this new declaration and possible beatification would see the exhumation of Father Peyton’s body and transfer of his remains to a permanent resting place in the Father Peyton Center. Father Raymond believes it providential that during the past year the ministry has been in the planning stages for a museum focused on Father Peyton’s ministry.
Said Father Raymond: “Our fondest hope is that if he is beatified and canonized, he would be recognized as a saint of family prayer.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.