By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Steve Gibson, C.S.C., greeted a busload of pilgrims traveling with The Catholic Messenger Pilgrimage to Ireland as we arrived at the Father Peyton Centre in Attymass Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, the birthplace of the center’s namesake. This site serves as the Irish location to commemorate his life and apostolic works (fatherpeytoncentre.ie).
The Venerable Patrick Peyton, now on the road toward sainthood, traveled worldwide during his lifetime, preaching on the importance of prayer, especially family prayer, out of deep gratitude to God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Father Gibson, also a Holy Cross priest, arrived 14 years ago from Notre Dame University to do some retreats at the Father Peyton Centre and never left. “I love it,” he said of his ministry, interrupting himself as a 6-year-boy named Aiden stopped by to visit. Aiden, Father Gibson explained, wants to receive Communion but he can’t because he hasn’t begun his sacramental preparation yet.
Aiden’s longing is a fitting metaphor for the late Father Peyton’s longing in his youth to become a priest. Lack of funding for his education and illness as a young man delayed his vocation. He nearly gave up but the embers of faith sustained him. We would learn more about Father Peyton’s perseverance in prayer and faith while viewing an inspiring documentary about him at the center.
We walked into the center, along with Aiden, who posed for photos in front of an enormous rosary displayed on a wall. Father Peyton, 1909-1992, preached about prayer on crusades worldwide, especially the family rosary. He popularized the phrase “The family that prays together stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
Known as the rosary priest, his promotion of the family rosary continues through the organization he founded, as does his Family Theater Productions, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. In 2017, Pope Francis declared Father Peyton “venerable,” the step before beatification.
His own family in Ireland nurtured the future priest’s faith. Praying the rosary every evening with his parents and siblings brought Mary to life for him. As a young boy, he felt a call to the priesthood but education and financial obstacles dashed his dreams. At age 19, he immigrated to the United States with his brother, Tom, to join a sister already there. He promised his father that he would be faithful to God in America.
The opportunity to discern a vocation to the priesthood re-emerged in America. Eventually, he became a priest but not without some setbacks, including a serious illness, which he believes he overcame with the intercession of the Blessed Mother. “When I needed her and her power and her friendship, she didn’t forget that ever since I had been a little child and could open my mouth, I had used that power to say the Rosary; so when I needed her friendship, she was glad to give it to me” (fatherpeyton.org).
Ordained as a Holy Cross priest with his brother, Tom, in 1941, he began early in his ministry envisioning the family rosary being prayed in 10 million homes. His vision, networking skills and steadfast commitment to his faith and devotion to Mary led him to inspire, promote and foster the prayer life and spiritual well-being of families worldwide. Holy Cross Family Ministries continues Father Peyton’s mission through Family Rosary, Family Theater Productions, Catholic Mom, the Museum of Family Prayer, Father Peyton Family Institutes and the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life (Catholic News Service, 1-14-22).
“We’re praying very hard that he will be made a saint,” Father Gibson told us after the documentary. I will pray for Father Peyton’s sainthood, for more families to pray the rosary and for Aiden to complete his sacramental preparation so that he can receive Communion.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)