“What the world is in particular need today is the credible witnesses of people …. capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life” — Porta Fidei 15
Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, CSC
Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, CSC (1909-1992), known the world over as “The Rosary Priest”, coined the well-known slogan “The family that prays together stays together”.
One of nine children, he was born in 1909 to a farming family in Ireland’s County Mayo. At the time, the rosary was generally said in every Catholic home, at a set time each evening.
After immigrating to the United States at 19, Peyton joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross as a seminarian and was ordained in 1941.
His first assignment was as a school chaplain in Albany, New York, where he immediately launched upon implementing his vision: his goal was to persuade ten million families to commit to public promotion of the family rosary through his Holy Rosary Crusade. He also promoted family prayer for the intention of defending America from the evils of Communism.
On Mother’s Day, 1945, he produced a wildly popular national radio programme with Bing Crosby. He soon became a household name across America.
Tall, handsome, and charismatic, in 1947 the young priest travelled to Los Angeles, found his way to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, and soon befriended many Hollywood celebrities: Loretta Young, Grace Kelly, Maureen O’Hara.
Family Theatre, an organisation of Hollywood Catholics in media (now known as Family Productions), helped widen Father Peyton’s audience. The group helped promote the Rosary Crusade by producing stories — for radio, film, and television — containing moral and spiritual lessons, as well as adaptations of literary classics. The 2020 documentary Pray: The Story ofPatrick Peyton tells more of Father Peyton’s story.
A marketing pioneer, he understood exactly how to get a message out. “A world at prayer will be a world at peace.” “The family that prays together stays together. ”
He took his show on the road across America with advertising blitzes and prominent radio spots. His rallies were huge events. Children drilled for weeks in advance to arrange themselves into the shape of rosary beads.
In 1954, the “Irish priest from Hollywood” returned to Ireland and took his native country by storm.
Father Peyton’s campaign lost ground amid the cultural and religious turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s. Yet he preserved, and in December 1985, he gave a rosary rally in the Philippines that drew two million and may have contributed to the toppling of the Philippine dictator the following year.
Father Peyton spent his final days with the Little Sisters of the Poor in San Pedro, California. He continued to pray the rosary to the end.
Father Peyton died in 1992 at the age of 83. His final words were, “Mary, my Queen, my Mother.”
His cause for canonisation was opened in 2001 and he was declared Venerable by the Vatican in December 2017.
Heather King is an award-winning spiritual writer. She is author of Redeemed, Shirt of Flame, and many other books. She leads writing workshops and writes frequently on the arts and culture. © Magnificat, October 2021