Biography captures life of Fr. Patrick Peyton and his lifetime dedication to family prayer
By Tony Staley
Say the name Fr. Patrick Peyton to Catholics over the age of 40 and many will know it. Add the phrase, "The family that prays together, stays together" and most faces will light up with recognition.
Fr. Peyton, a native of Ireland, came to the U.S. in 1928 when he was 19. He joined the Congregation of Holy Cross and went on to found several apostolates to encourage family prayer, particularly the rosary.
The life of this extraordinary priest is captured in American Apostle of the Family Rosary by Fr. Richard Gribble, CSC, Crossroad Publishing Co., New York (2005). Fr. Gribble, an associate professor of religious studies at Stonehill College, North Easton, Mass., has written 15 books on history and spirituality.
In American Apostle, he traces the life and work of Fr. Peyton while placing it within the broader context of what was happening in the church and the broader society.
Fr. Peyton, a native of County Mayo, came to the U.S. after twice failing to enter religious life. Even then, his ordination was a surprise: He had contracted tuberculosis and was told his only hope was a miracle. He began an all-out campaign of prayer to Mary that led to his recovery, ordination and the dedication of his life to Mary.
Soon after, in early 1942, Fr. Peyton resolved to bring the Family Rosary into at least 10 million American homes. Within three years, Fr. Peyton had expanded his efforts to radio and
from that was born the popular Family Theater of the Air featuring the top stars of the day. Later, Fr. Peyton produced critically-acclaimed films depicting the mysteries of the rosary. Soon, he was taking his family rosary crusade to dioceses across the country and eventually to every continent. During the late 1950s and into the '60s, Fr. Peyton even received secret
funding from the CIA to bring the crusade to Latin America as part of the U.S. battle against communism. It finally took action by Pope Paul VI to end that funding.
And yes, the Green Bay Packers fit into the story. In 1968, Fr. Peyton brought the crusade to Milwaukee where Packers head coach Phil Bengtson and defensive captain Willie Davis were among prayer leaders (pp. 257-258).
The Fr. Peyton captured in American Apostle is no plaster saint. While he comes across as extremely holy and devout, he often ran roughshod over subordinates and he did whatever he could to stop those who disagreed with him.
But as American Apostle makes clear, it's hard to overstate the role Fr. Peyton played in Catholicism in the U.S. and the world. He even convinced the Second Vatican Council to include statements on family prayer in Gaudium et Spes and the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. His media efforts and crusades evangelized millions. American Apostle is a recommended read.