Question: In confession recently the priest told me I should not say, "Bless me, Father,…
‘Pray’ documentary on Father Patrick Peyton is a gift for our times
The release of Family Theater Productions’ documentary “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton,” imparts a message for our times through its rediscovery of the life and mission of the Irish-born Holy Cross priest who founded the “Family Rosary Crusade.” At his rallies and media ministry, with his characteristic accented, soft-spoken voice, Peyton traveled the globe to impress upon the millions who listened that “The family that prays together stays together.”
Directed by Jonathan Cipiti and produced by Megan Harrington, the film is engaging and informative while inspiring and productive. It is hard to think how a viewer could not be motivated to depart and not want to pray the Rosary and make changes in their family’s prayer life — let alone join in Peyton’s mission of family prayer. It is also appealing to the senses: an attractive production with a fine score imbued with an Irish character.
The film comes at a providential time. The many struggles and divisions faced in our country in the wake of the pandemic and a contentious election season leave us longing for peaceful solutions to our woes. Our daily news reiterates by the hour how we need unity in our society, perhaps more than ever. And Father Peyton’s message of family prayer — particularly the family Rosary — offers the solution we really need. As Father Peyton so often said, “The world at prayer is a world at peace.”
Father Peyton’s is a story of conversion — a rambunctious school drop-out, born in 1909, who set out to America in search of millions. He had considered priesthood, but made up his mind he wanted a family. Things changed after he had up-close, personal experiences with the Lord after finding a job working at the cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Peyton’s story is also one of evangelical zeal and miracles. Eventually joining the Congregation of Holy Cross, Peyton’s studies for the priesthood were interrupted when he became seriously ill with tuberculosis. Yet again his life was changed on account of a miraculous healing he attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was resolved to spend his days spreading devotion to her.
After ordination in 1941, just before the start of World War II, Father Peyton’s early days as a priest saw him advocating by mail for family devotion to the Rosary. With missionary zeal, and downright spunk, Peyton set out for Hollywood to enlist an army of celebrities for his cause. By his creative use of radio, television and film, Peyton was a visionary, a pioneer in using mass media to spread the Gospel in America. Only a man possessing great, heroic virtues could accomplish what he did.
As America transitioned from world war to the Cold War, Peyton pressed on for peace with his Rosary rallies throughout the world. The United States government recognized the positive impact brought to Latin America by the crusades of “the Rosary Priest,” and for a time he received funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. Although they arranged the locations, the CIA did not interfere with the content. The Rosary rallies drew millions, including his last in 1992 when at Manilla, Philippines, the two million attendees became part of a groundswell to overthrow the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
With the changes brought to the Church and the world in the late 1960s and 1970s, Peyton shifted his focus more toward television and film, which also brought setbacks and failures. Peyton regretted the loss of devotional life after the Second Vatican Council, yet he pressed on in his mission to promote the Rosary and family prayer. He died at 83 in 1992.
“Pray” gives an up-close glimpse into a real-life, modern-day model of apostolic zeal. Father Peyton knew that in order to claim the world for Christ, we must first start with the family. Interwoven in the film are stories from families who have heard Peyton’s call and reaped the benefits in their family life. Prayer changes things. Prayer has consequences. Father Peyton spent his life proclaiming that truth.
A cause for canonization was opened for Father Peyton in 2001, and he was declared venerable in 2017. Should we want to work for peace in the world today, we would do well to study and emulate the life and work of Father Peyton — truly put his principles into practice and help others to do the same — and seek the assistance of his prayers. This film will accomplish that for those who see it.
To learn more about the documentary, which was released in theaters on Oct. 9, visit: praythefilm.com.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.