The Life of Ven. Father Patrick Peyton
“The family that prays together stays together.” This was not simply a quip Father Patrick Peyton composed as a slogan for his ministry, but a value instilled from childhood which permeated his whole life. Fr. Peyton’s life had humble beginnings in Carracastle, County Mayo, Ireland, where his father led his family of eleven in praying the Rosary every night, laying the foundation for a deep and fruitful life of prayer. In 1928 when he was nineteen, Patrick and one of his brothers, Tom, emigrated to America and eventually discerned calls to the priesthood with the Congregation of Holy Cross, entering formation at Notre Dame in 1929.
When Patrick fell ill with tuberculosis in 1938 and was bedridden for nearly a year, he received a miraculous healing from Our Lady after entrusting his health to her and invoking her intercession at the urging of one his superiors, Father Cornelius Hagerty, C.S.C. Following his healing, he grew to love her more fervently and saw Mary as a sensitive and approachable mother. When he was ordained in 1941, he explained: “I gave my heart and soul in love to Mary.”
Father Peyton felt called to dedicate himself to spreading Marian devotion especially in the form of the Rosary. He founded The Family Rosary in 1942 to promote the practice of family prayer that had been so impactful in his spiritual growth as a child. Understanding the beauty and power of the Rosary, he desired to share the message with millions through the means of radio and television programs and established Family Theater Productions in 1947. He also organized billboard campaigns with reminders that “The family that prays together stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
His zeal for the Rosary inspired him to lead 260 Rosary rallies across the globe, many of which drew crowds upwards of 2 million. His unprecedented success involved the whole community and was deeply rooted in prayer. He dubbed this approach the “Six Mountains for Our Lady” and would ensure that every diocese where he held a Rosary rally prepared by holding 40 Holy Hours, offering 40 Masses, preaching about the family prayer in homilies, organizing family formation programs, and visiting hospitals and prisons to encourage prayer. All of these efforts culminated in the sixth mountain of the Rosary rally itself.
Father Peyton’s indefatigable dedication to family prayer and the Rosary continued until his health deteriorated. He lived in San Pedro, California with the Little Sisters of the Poor until his death on June 3, 1992. His mission is still carried on by Holy Cross Family Ministries today.
In 1997, the Cause Process for Fr. Peyton’s Canonization began. After receiving the title “Servant of God” through the study of his life and ministry that found heroic virtue and sanctity of life, in 2001, he was recognized as “Venerable” by Pope Francis in December 2017.
His legacy continues to inspire the faithful in a number of ways today. Although Fr. Peyton was not considered to be a skilled orator and had a shy disposition, he found the strength and boldness to reach millions through his prayer and total consecration to Mary.
As the classic over-committed student trying to balance myriad responsibilities in ministry, club leadership, classes, and research all while trying to be present to my friends and family, I often focus my attention on how much more I have yet to do and on my shortcomings. Fr. Peyton’s example reminds all of us that Christ provides an abundance of graces, generously filling us right where we lack and then some so that we can better glorify Him and His Mother!
Father Peyton also teaches us about the importance of consistency in our prayer. His extraordinary endeavors were grounded in the seemingly ordinary commitment to faithfully pray his breviary and Rosary. He also celebrated Mass and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament daily. As students literally living above or down the hallway from our Lord in the Eucharist in the dorm chapels, we, too, can pay frequent visits to Him in daily Mass and/or personal prayer.
Father Peyton’s story shows us the impact of examples who model an enthusiastic faith. God used Fr. Peyton’s parents’ commitment to family prayer and the Rosary to mold their son in holiness. His Marian devotion grew due to the encouragement of Father Hagerty. In my own life, the example of my mom bringing my siblings and I to daily Mass even though we were quite young and rambunctious and my parents prioritizing Sunday Mass as a family has played a significant role in my faith formation. At Notre Dame, I have been blessed beyond measure by so many holy friendships that have inspired me to grow in my desire for holiness and devotion to Our Lady, especially through the Rosary.
Since I have been a member of and now serve as president for the Notre Dame chapter of the Militia of the Immaculata (NDMI) and as a catechist in a local South Bend parish, I find myself in a position where I can encourage others in their Marian devotion and continue to grow in mine, in imitation of Fr. Peyton, who was so humble and total in his entrustment to Mary that he called himself “Our Lady’s Donkey.” He once said, “Mary helped me in my great need, and she can help you too if you let her. Ask her each day.” May we strive to emulate his zeal for family prayer and love for Our Lady, tirelessly serving as “Our Lady’s Donkeys” in our daily lives.
Mackenzie Kraker is a senior biochemistry and theology major. As the president of the NDMI and head of the ND Father Peyton Guild Chapter, she has a plethora of Rosaries and Ven. Father Peyton prayer cards. If you have need of these and/or want to talk all things Marian email her at email@example.com.