In the midst of the media frenzy over the Academy Awards, no one mentioned the name of Father Patrick Peyton, a Catholic filmmaker, radio personality and worldwide rosary crusader.
That's not surprising — Father Peyton has been nominated for a status that doesn't much interest the mainstream news and entertainment industries: sainthood.
Father Patrick Peyton was born in Carracastle, Ireland, in 1909. After moving to the United States, he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1932. He had long maintained a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, but it was his miraculous cure from a bout of tuberculosis in 1939 that confirmed in him a desire to spread devotion to her.
“The cure was prominent because he firmly believed that it was a miracle,” explains Holy Cross Father Richard Gribble, Father Peyton's official critical biographer. “The doctors had told him, ‘you can have radical major surgery or you can pray.’” He prayed and, through Mary's intercession, fully recovered.
Later, Father Peyton was ordained and, while finishing school in 1941-1942 — he was behind because of his illness — he “tried to find what he should do.” He felt that he owed his life to Mary, and wanted to spend his time promoting devotion to her. Then, says Father Gribble, “he came up with the Family Rosary,” drawing on the example of his own family while he was growing up.
His work took off with a radio program for Mother's Day in 1945; when, through a series of incredible circumstances, “Family Theater of the Air” was launched in February 1947, things really began to move. The show ran until 1969 and included appearances by such Hollywood legends as Loretta Young, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante and Ricardo Montalban.
About a year later, Father Peyton began his famous “rosary crusades” with a gathering in London, Ontario. Throughout the 1950s, he preached worldwide on the rosary, attracting enormous crowds wherever he went. More than 1 million people turned out in Manila, 2 million for a rosary crusade in Brazil. In the United States, stadiums filled to capacity from coast to coast as he promoted the rosary and preached his simple message: “The family that prays together stays together.”
Rosary on Film
Father Peyton recognized a major new opportunity with the advent of television and, in 1955, began producing the first of 15 films, one for each mystery of the rosary. The movies premiered at the World's Fair in the Vatican Pavilion in May, 1958. They were highly acclaimed, translated into several languages and soon became a prime means of evangelization in Latin America.
Father Peyton continued the promotion of family prayer until his death in San Pedro, Calif., in June 1992. Mother Marie, a member of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and superior of the house where Father Peyton spent his last six months, has no doubt that Father Peyton was a saint. “I certainly do [think he was saint],” she says. She also told the Register: “I have given my deposition to the Vatican representative; his whole life was given to promoting Our Lady.”
Although Father Peyton died in the archdiocese of Los Angeles, the the diocesan phase of the cause for his canonization was recently moved to the diocese of Fall River, Mass., because Holy Cross Family Ministries, the successor to Father Peyton's work, is located within that diocese. The organization, led by Holy Cross Father John Phalen, is, along with the rest of the diocese, awaiting Rome's go-ahead. If it comes, Father Peyton will receive the title “Servant of God.”
In the diocesan phase of the process, certain information must be gathered. The first step, Holy Cross Father Tom Feeley, vice postulator for the canonization cause, explains, is “testimonies of holiness in life.” Father Feeley has interviewed many people who have sworn to Father Peyton's holiness, including the late Loretta Young, Oscar-winner for best actress in 1947.
In her statement, given in 1998 (two years before her death), Young told of Father Peyton's visits to her family while she was working with him for Family Theater. In each visit, before dinner, he would have the family kneel to pray the rosary.
Despite the fact that he often worked in Hollywood, Father Peyton “came out pure as a lily,” said Young in her statement. “I am sure he is [a saint], and he's going to be canonized, I hope. But I don't care if he is canonized or not because he made his point while he was here and he's where he belongs now.”
Though he was not the world's greatest speaker, people were drawn to Father Peyton by “the way he said what he said,”
Father Gribble explains. “He had a completely single-minded devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a way to Christ.”
In addition to holiness of life, the diocesan process must also show evidence of continued devotion and favors granted. There is no lack of the former, according to Father Feeley, who is currently traveling the world to speak about Father Peyton. “Anyone who met Father Peyton remembers the date and the occasion,” he explains, citing an African man who walked 15 miles just to hear the priest speak.
As for favors received, Father Feeley says that, when people pray through the intercession of Father Peyton, “they get rather instant responses.” Of the many stories he has heard, at least two deal with cures. One woman who was going blind regained her sight while praying along with a tape of Father Peyton saying the rosary. “The doctor had no explanation,” says Father Feeley.
Another woman, suffering from osteoporosis, broke her arm and was told by her doctor to “pray for a miracle.” She did, and the bone rejuvenated, enabling the doctor to set it. “The doctor said there was no [medical explanation],” says Father Feeley.
And it is not just his miracles that make Father Peyton important to today's world. His work continues as Holy Cross Family Ministries prepares to distribute 5 million rosaries by 2005. Mother Marie notes that, as families continue to be assaulted by contemporary culture, they should heed Father Peyton's famous words on family prayer.
“The family that prays together stays together,” she says. “Prayer does keep families together.”
Andrew Walther writes from Los Angeles.