Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
“He truly believed that prayer was the answer to all the world’s problems.” Father David Guffey is talking about his friend and fellow Holy Cross priest Father Patrick Peyton. “Not just individual prayer,” Father Guffey continued, “but prayer as a family – a family united, in love with each other and with God.” Through the years Father Peyton’s motto, “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together,” has become a classic reminder of the importance of faith in our homes and in our families.
In October 2020, Family Theater Productions will release a new documentary film on the life of Father Peyton, who is known worldwide as the “Rosary Priest.” Five months earlier, on May 10, a new trailer is being released to pique viewers' interest in Father Peyton’s dramatic story. The trailer release falls during the month traditionally devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother. Father Peyton’s first radio show, an interview with Bing Crosby which aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System, occurred on Mother’s Day 1945; and the new trailer release is planned for Mother’s Day weekend 2020, the 75th anniversary of that historic broadcast.
Father Guffey talked recently with the Register about the faithful priest whose ministry drew millions to prayer. Father Guffey called his predecessor Father Peyton “the most famous person that people have never heard of.” Father Guffey is uniquely prepared to tell the Father Peyton story: Guffey knew Father Peyton from the 1980s until his death in 1992. Guffey now serves as national director of the organization Father Peyton founded, Family Theater Productions, and he is executive producer of the upcoming film Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.
“[Father Peyton] had a sense of presence about him,” said Father Guffey. “When he walked into a room, you knew that he was somebody pretty amazing.” Father Guffey himself attributes his interest in how the Church uses media to Father Peyton’s example. The rosary priest, Father Guffey noted, “was inspired by the papacy of Pope St. John Paul II, who called on priests to be involved in media. He had incredible insights into what influence the media could have.”
Patrick Peyton’s first experience with radio was in Albany, New York, where he prayed the Rosary on the air. Bishop Fulton Sheen permitted Father Peyton to include a notice on Sheen’s radio show, offering to send a free rosary and a booklet on how to pray the rosary to any listener who wrote in and expressed interest. Bishop Sheen warned the priest that he should be prepared for a large response: He could, Bishop Sheen thought, receive as many as 2,000 to 5,000 requests for a rosary. But the response was actually much greater than that. In the first week, more than 10,000 listeners wrote in, asking for a rosary.
Father Peyton may have had little experience with media when he first stepped up to the microphone – but after the success of the rosary give-away on Bishop Sheen’s program, he realized that radio (and later, television) was a good way to reach people’s hearts. With that new understanding, Father Peyton become an unlikely media and marketing pioneer. Through some personal connections, he found his way to New York City, where he had an opportunity to appear on the Mutual Broadcasting System, the second largest radio network at the time. The way to get people’s attention, he was told, was to bring on a big star. “So who’s the biggest star?” he asked. He was told that the biggest, most popular star of the time was Bing Crosby – so on Good Friday, motivated by his desire to reach souls and never too shy to ask for help, Father Peyton dialed Mr. Crosby’s home.
It may surprise modern readers that Father Peyton was able to so easily reach a major Hollywood star at his home; even more surprising, Bing Crosby agreed to appear on the show. That first broadcast would air on the Mutual Broadcasting Network on Easter Sunday 1945, which fell that year on Mother’s Day. Also on that first show were the choir from St. Patrick’s Cathedral as well as the Sullivans, parents of five brothers who were killed when the ship they were stationed on, the USS Juneau, was torpedoed by the Japanese during World War II. The Sullivans talked with Father Peyton about how prayer had helped them through the pain and grief of losing their five sons in battle; and they led America in praying the Rosary. Even President Truman appeared on the show, taking the opportunity to thank the mothers of America for their heroic sacrifices during the war. The broadcast was an overwhelming success and, according to Father Guffey, was even written up in the trade magazines of the times.
Following the success of his Mother’s Day broadcast, Father Peyton took the advice of friends who told him that since the movie stars that listeners would recognize were all out in Hollywood, he should take his show to the West Coast as well. Although he had no formal plans for a show in Hollywood, Father Peyton headed to California; and within just a few months, he had a national radio show, the “Family Theater of the Air.” The weekly show featured stars who talked about families, and how they made it through life. “The show was ecumenical,” reported Father Guffey, “but it was always a call for life. … It was simple, based on an analysis of what was going on in the world. Father Peyton understood that when people don't have a connection to God or a religious experience of God, then they're missing something in their life.”
The world has changed since that wildly popular show first surfaced in 1945. If Father Peyton were alive today, Father Guffey believes, he would be on the internet – as is the organization Father Peyton founded, Family Theater Productions. In the secular society in which we now live, would throngs line the streets in cities around the world to see the Rosary Priest convey his message of hope through prayer?
A few years ago, CARA, Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, released a study which looked at family spirituality. The good news to be gleaned from that study, according to Father Guffey, is that most Catholic parents pray pretty regularly. However, most of the prayer that takes place in the home is by individuals; only a small percentage of Catholics pray with their families. “I hope,” Father Guffey said, “that the examples of the families in the film will inspire others, and that people will take the risk and pray in their homes.”
Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton will hit theaters in the fall; and the trailer is being released this weekend. But why wait? In the meantime, the film’s website praythefilm.com offers helpful resources for families to begin to pray together.