by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I was given the opportunity to preview a film entitled: “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.”
If you are as old as me, you might recognize the name of Father Patrick Peyton. Father Peyton was born in 1909, and grew up in a small village in County Mayo, Ireland. He was one of nine children of subsistence farmers, John and Mary (Gillard) Peyton. His father led the family every night in praying the rosary.
Patrick Peyton, as a teenager, considered a vocation to the priesthood. At the time, priestly vocations were abundant in Ireland. Irish seminaries were very selective in accepting candidates for the priesthood.
They chose those considered to be the best and the brightest. In part because he had to help with the family farm, Patrick had not completed high school. He was not accepted for admission to the seminary.
In 1927, Patrick and his older brother Thomas immigrated to the United States. The brothers Peyton went to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where one of their sisters lived. They became janitors for St. Peter Cathedral. It was there that his desire for priesthood reawakened. In 1929, both Patrick and Thomas entered into the minor seminary for the Holy Cross Fathers in Notre Dame, Indiana.
By 1938, Patrick Peyton was studying theology at Catholic University, when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In that era, many died from this debilitating disease.
Patrick was confined to bed for months. His mentor, Father Cornelius Hagerty, encouraged Patrick to entrust his health to the intercession of Mary. He recovered from the illness and his devotion to Our Blessed Mother deepened dramatically.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1941, Father Patrick Peyton was assigned to a Holy Cross apostolate in Albany, New York. It was there that he began writing letters to bishops as well as lay leaders, encouraging them to promote the importance of families praying the rosary.
He discerned the importance of using radio, film and eventually television in promoting family prayer. Father Peyton was fearless in begging air time from radio executives and inviting Hollywood celebrities to donate their time and talent for programs promoting virtue and family prayer.
Father Peyton also conducted rosary rallies throughout the United States, as well as in Belgium, Spain, Ireland, the Philippines, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru and Brazil. He spoke to millions, asking them to make a pledge to pray the family rosary, especially appealing to fathers to make the rosary a priority within the home.
One of his last rosary rallies in the Philippines drew two million participants. Many believed this event played a key part in the peaceful transition of power when the Marcos era came to a conclusion.
Father Peyton’s famous tag lines for his rallies and talks were: “A family that prays together, stays together,” as well as: “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus, after a very intense day — preaching in the synagogue, exorcising a man possessed by demons, healing Peter’s mother-in-law and, in the evening, curing many more — rises before dawn and goes to a deserted place to pray.
Peter and his other disciples track Jesus down, informing Our Lord that everyone is looking for him. After having spent the early morning in prayer, Jesus tells his disciples that he must continue his mission by going to nearby villages to preach the Gospel.
Our Lord’s disciples recognized that Jesus derived great wisdom and tremendous power from his prayer. They asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. We catch a glimpse of the honesty of Our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Aware that his passion and death are imminent, Jesus asked that this cup of suffering be removed. However, in the end, Our Lord desired, above everything else, his will to be conformed to the Father’s.
With the lingering Covid pandemic, societal unrest, economic uncertainty and challenges within the church, our need for prayer is readily apparent. With all the stress upon marriage and family life, Father Peyton’s emphasis on family prayer could not be more timely.
We are fortunate to have in the archdiocese the Holy Family School of Faith that offers a daily rosary meditation podcast. More than 14,000 households are subscribers.
Mike Scherschligt, one of the co-founders of Holy Family School of Faith, has developed a beautiful method to pray the daily rosary, while helping participants grow in their knowledge and understanding of their Catholic faith. For each decade, Mike offers a brief reflection on some aspect of our Catholic faith. He draws these daily meditations from the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church or writings of the saints.
Mike sent me recently an email he had received from a 22-year-old young woman who has been listening to his rosary podcast for a year and a half. She was baptized Catholic as a baby, but the church was not really part of her life until she started dating a Catholic young man. Her boyfriend’s family introduced her to the daily rosary meditations.
She wrote: “The rosary meditations became an absolute every day and taught me more and more about the Catholic faith and what it means to be a disciple.” Early last summer, the young woman shared the daily rosary podcast with her dad, who had not been practicing his faith. Recently, her father told her that the daily rosary meditations “brought him back into the church and has redefined his relationship with the Lord.”
Many couples and families are utilizing the Holy Family School of Faith daily rosary meditations. As much as possible, they pray the rosary together as a family. However, even when that is not possible, they discuss as a couple or family the content of the meditations.
It is inspiring couples and families to have great conversations as they help each other grow in prayer and knowledge of the faith.
As we approach the beginning of Lent, this is a perfect time to commit yourself to increased daily prayer. Praying the daily rosary as a family, if possible, or individually would be a great Lenten practice.
Father Peyton’s formula is as true today as it was 50 years ago: “A family that prays together, stays together.”