Irish immigrant Father Patrick Peyton reached millions with his "the family that prays together stays together" call-to-action. But when Patrick came to the United States in 1927 with his brother Tom, his intention was to become a millionaire. So how did his path in life change so dramatically? That story is told in the new documentary Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton. Father David Guffey,one of the film's executive producers and the national director of Family Theater Productions, which Father Peyton founded, joined me recently on Christopher Closeup to discuss the project.
Father Guffey noted that Patrick's job as a janitor in St. Joseph Cathedral in Scranton, Pennsylvania "brought him close to God in an ever deeper way," eventually leading him to join the Congregation of Holy Cross order of priests. Years later, Father Patrick contracted tuberculosis, which was often a death sentence in the early 20th century because antibiotics had not yet been created. Doctors told him to make his peace with God and called in his family to say goodbye to him.
Father Guffey continued the story: "An old Holy Cross priest, who had been a philosophy professor of Father Peyton's at Notre Dame, came to visit him, prayed with him, and he said, 'Pat, we know that you have faith. We know that you're close to the Blessed Mother. Let her intercede for you. Turn to her. If you believe in her, she'll believe in you.' He believed in her, and he prayed like he'd never prayed before. The next day, he felt a physical healing. It took a while to convince the doctors to do another chest X-ray, but when they finally did a few weeks later, the tuberculosis was gone, and there was no medical explanation of what could have happened."
Humbled and grateful for his second chance at life, Father Peyton thought back to what a great gift it was to pray the rosary as a family when he was growing up. Believing that other families could benefit from this practice, he started holding rosary rallies to promote this message. Eventually, he used mass media to further spread the message. Hollywood's biggest stars, from Lucille Ball to Frank Sinatra, lined up to help him. And though Father Peyton appealed to Catholics, he also took an ecumenical approach to his message, encouraging different faiths and denominations to pray according to their own tradition. "The big thing was to be together with your family and point your family toward God by praying together," said Father Guffey.
One of the appeals of Father Peyton's approach was how positive it was. Much like the founder of The Christophers, Father James Keller, Father Peyton believed in lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness. When he was once asked what he is against, Father Peyton responded that he is so busy supporting the things he's for, he has no time to focus on what he is against. This approach has helped Father Peyton's message live on beyond his lifetime. The film includes interviews with numerous people about the ways that praying together as a family has bonded them more closely together. Former Kansas City Royal Mike Sweeney even credits the practice with saving his marriage.
In conclusion, Father Guffey hopes that viewers of Pray will be "entertained. I think it’s a beautiful story beautifully told. But I hope it will encourage them in their own vocation to gather with the people that they love most, especially families, and consider praying together."
This essay is a recent "Light One Candle" column written by Tony
Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers; it is one of a
series of weekly columns that deal with a variety of topics and current