“The family that prays together stays together.” Millions of listeners quickly recognized and adopted this religious motto taught by Father Patrick Peyton on his weekly Family Theatre Productions radio dramas, which first aired in 1947.
To encourage family prayer, especially the Rosary, Father Peyton of the Congregation of Holy Cross repeated it on his TV programs, during Rosary crusades and across billboards. He meant for families to take this slogan to heart — and hand-in-hand with another memorable saying he popularized: “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
Named Servant of God when his canonization cause opened in 2001, the “Rosary Priest,” as he came to be known, began his work in 1942 with the dream of bringing the Rosary into 10 million American homes.
As this year marks the 65th anniversary of his Family Rosary Crusade, the 60th of Family Theatre, and the 15th of his death, it seems a good time to consider that his vision seems timelier than ever.
And never more so than on Marian feast days, such as the Aug. 22 celebration of the Blessed Mother’s queenship.
“If the need for families that pray together and stay together was important in the late ’40s, it’s 10 times more important today,” says Holy Cross Father Willy Raymond, national director of Family Theatre. He stresses the family is under assault by conditions in our culture and forces wanting to undermine and destroy it.
The remedy is what Father Peyton preached to millions.
“I don’t know of any better protection and defense of the family than praying together,” reiterates Father Raymond, “and it’s hard for me to conceive of a prayer more effective than the Rosary.”
Paul and Laura Lauer are raising three girls and two boys, 6 to 16 years old, in Westlake Village, Calif. Like many couples, they went through a challenging period in their relationship 10 years ago. Paul says the invisible factor of the power of prayer and power of God got them through the hard times.
“It’s an intense battle right now for the hearts and souls of the kids, the parents and marriage itself,” he adds. “Prayer is about the only thing that can help you win this battle.”
The couple had already started praying together nightly via phone while they were dating. Their prayer was to do God’s will in their lives. After they married, they continued the practice.
“Over the good times you’re laying the groundwork for survival,” Paul explains. He compares the consistent family prayers to Joseph in the Old Testament wisely storing grain against the coming famine. “I saw very clearly we got through difficult times based upon these stored-up provisions. That makes all the difference. Now 10 years later, we’re a happy family.”Trust Builders
Holy Cross Father John Phalen, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, points out that many factors disrupt and fragment families today, not the least of which is the busyness of daily family life.
What can the Rosary do to counteract those strains?
“It creates great trust in the family when they share their intentions together,” explains Father Phalen. “When people pray together and know each other’s prayer intentions, that creates the kind of trust where children would come to their parents when they need help rather than seek help elsewhere.”
Laura sees these benefits already forming in the times the children offer up the family Rosary for different intentions.
“It’s nice to hear them participate out loud and know they can pray for others or their own special needs, or whatever’s on their mind,” she says.
The Lauers began the family Rosary 10 years ago. The seed was surely planted some years before when, shortly after college and recently returned to his Catholic faith, Paul met and talked for a few hours with Father Peyton, then convalescing in California.
Paul says he and Laura thought at first it was going to be tough to find time, considering homework, chores, sports, dinner and so on. Despite the occasional complaints, he says in a way that can inspire all families, “It turned out to be lot easier than we thought it would be.”
“As much as it is sometimes a challenge to get everybody focused, by the end of the Rosary there’s always calm and peace in the home regardless of whatever challenge to get it started,” says Paul.
“Their memory of family prayer will be that that was time everybody was calm and peaceful when we were praying together,” says Paul. “In a broader sense they will understand that prayer is always the path of peace, not just in the home but in the world.”Marvels of the Mysteries
Father Peyton worked tirelessly to get that message out to families. By the time he died in 1991, he had spoken to more than 28 million people at 40 international Rosary Rallies. (The largest drew 2 million people to Manila, Philippines; one held in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park attracted more than 500,000.)
He found he could reach even more families through the media. Over 22 years, his weekly Family Theatre Productions aired more than 500 radio programs and close to 60 TV specials and films, each featuring major Hollywood stars. His “Mysteries of the Rosary” series is currently being re-aired on EWTN.
When families establish the habit, even unusual circumstances separating them can’t disrupt the family praying and staying together. Many write to Father Phalen describing how they pray together with members fighting in Iraq. They adjust for the time difference to make sure they’re praying the Rosary at home the same time their family member is praying the Rosary overseas.
“The family is gathered and remembering him especially in prayer, and they get strength knowing he’s praying at the same time too,” he says. It’s not so different than the world Father Peyton knew during his earliest radio program when World War II was on.
Paul Lauer likens the practice of daily family prayer to Jesus’ parable of the house built on sand versus the house built on rock.
“You don’t notice the difference until the storm comes and thrashes the house,” Paul says. “Small, consistent investments day after day have this enormous impact over time.”
He and Laura observe the good effect their daily family Rosary is having, despite the storms whipped up under the darkening clouds of the popular culture.
“Our home has been protected in many ways,” he says. “I believe that we have a layer of protection, this balloon of grace around us that consistent family prayer generates and sustains and that is bringing us a good life.”
Father Peyton must be praying for the Lauers — and for all families, everywhere.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.Information
Holy Cross Family Ministries administers Family Rosary and Family Theatre Productions. For more, visit hcfm.org or call (800) 299-PRAY.