This Mother's Day weekend, both on social media and at PrayTheFilm.com, Family Theater Productions and its partners are debuting the trailer for PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON, the upcoming documentary about the amazing life of Rosary champion and media evangelist Venerable Patrick Peyton.
Born in County Mayo, Ireland, in 1909, young Patrick Peyton emigrated to America with dreams of riches. He eventually felt a calling to the priesthood, which was almost derailed by a near-fatal bout with tuberculosis. After a plea to the Virgin Mary for intercession, he was healed and went on to become Father Patrick Peyton of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Along the way, he felt a desire to use the mass media to spread his message of devotion to the Rosary and to family prayer -- instilled as a child, as he prayed with his family. Major radio network the Mutual Broadcasting System gave him a chance -- if he could deliver a star. One successful cold-call to Bing Crosby later, Father Peyton made his radio debut on May 13, Mother's Day, in 1945.
Father Peyton went on to produce radio dramas, films and TV specials with some of the biggest stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, He also founded Family Theater Productions, which still operates from its original location on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
In Dec. 2017, Pope Francis declared Father Peyton -- who had previously been declared a Servant of God -- to be Venerable, the second step on road to sainthood. He's not a saint yet, but we're hoping that comes in the future (more on that here).
To celebrate the release of the PRAY trailer on Mother's Day weekend, we checked in with PRAY producer Megan Harrington (The Dating Project, The House That Rob Built) to learn more about the how and why of this amazing film.
Why is now a good time for a film biography of Venerable Patrick Peyton?
His story would be relevant at any point in time, because it's centered on the idea of family prayer, which is evergreen. The unprecedented state of the world makes his message of family unity through prayer even more timely.
As a media evangelist, he bridged the divide between faith and secular entertainment. How does that resonate today, when the two often seem very far apart?
Father Peyton wanted to produce the highest-quality programming, so he hired professionals skilled in their craft. Along those lines, he would naturally want the best actors. The film's executive producer, Father David Guffey, C.S.C., tells a story about someone asking why Father Peyton was working with so-and-so, to which he replied, “it will be good for them to work with us.” He didn’t see people as a lost cause or unworthy; he recognized the good in each person. The stars of the day appreciated his humble sincerity, and working with Father Peyton and Family Theater was good for them!
Father Peyton is known for his devotion to Our Lady and the Rosary, and to family prayer. How do those aspects figure in to the documentary?
You cannot tell a story about Father Peyton without those being the key ingredients in bringing honor and glory to Jesus Christ.
What was the process of assembling the archival elements for the film?
The process of digitization had many layers. Family Theater Productions had started the process, but when the doc was given the greenlight, it became imperative that a deep dive was necessary. Matt Donlan took on the monumental task, and we discovered some incredible gems.
Whom were you looking to interview, did you get them all, and were there any surprises?
We wanted to interview Father Peyton's relatives, people who worked for him, knew him personally, families impacted by his message during his life or after his passing, and a film/TV personality. For the most part, we were able to achieve the mission! The Passion of the Christ star Jim Caviezel, who has a wonderful story about Father Peyton, agreed to an interview but was called away for filming for a considerable chunk of time, so it didn’t work out.
I feel incredibly lucky to have met the individuals and families we interviewed. It was one of many gifts in being able to help tell this story. They were kind and considerate with their time, and each brought a unique perspective to the film.
I was also blessed to work with the most incredible team in making this film. They went above and beyond in every area to bring this story to life. It was a labor of love and inspiring to work alongside them. Teamwork makes the dream work!
I know you did filming in Father Peyton’s hometown in Ireland. What was that like?
The shoot in Ireland enriched the story in every way. It was emotionally and spiritually impacting to be in his homeland and birthplace, Attymass, in County Mayo. The Church of St. Joseph and Mary still has the Baptismal Font where he was baptized, and the Father Peyton Memorial Centre holds memorabilia and photographs, while also being a place of prayer. We were able to film the country roads where he walked, conduct interviews on the land where he was born and the cemetery where his mom and dad are at rest.
Father Peyton's family was wonderful and opened their homes and lives to us. They are the loveliest people! They also helped us find locations and actors for re-enactments, which is no small time commitment. Father Steve Gibson from the Memorial Centre was also very helpful and made sure we had what we needed on the ground.
The final shot in the film was a miracle. Director Jonathan Cipiti wanted a shot of a priest on a bluff overlooking the ocean as if to say, "his mission continues." The Peytons said that Downpatrick Head would be a spectacular location. But, when they called ahead to check the weather, they were informed the rain and fog were heavy, and the ocean would likely not be visible. Jon said that if there was a chance for a view of the ocean, he wanted to try.
So, we got in the van and caravanned with the Peytons to get the shot! I think it was about a 90-minute drive, and en route it was clear we were running out of daylight, even if you could see the water. Upon arrival, it was clear and beautiful. A breathtaking view.
The Peytons indicated we better hurry, because we didn't have much time. As we started filming Father Pat Peyton (Venerable Patrick Peyton's nephew) walking to the bluff, the clouds parted, and the sun literally appeared to be rising. I was standing behind Father Pat, and the sun was so bright over his white hair that it actually looked like a giant Eucharist.
I remember being in shock and saying, "Dear God." Everyone was blown away. We had enough time to film everything we needed and more. I'm certain it was a wink from Father Patrick Peyton, and a moment I will never forget!
What would you like people just being introduced to Father Peyton to take away from the film?
First and foremost, the goal is for viewers to be inspired to pray together as a family, especially the Rosary, because that is what Father Peyton dedicated his life to spreading to the four corners of the globe. He knew first hand the importance of the domestic church in nurturing young souls. It is an invitation to begin a new tradition and encouragement for families who are striving to make family prayer a priority. It is never to late to begin praying together. We also hope people are inspired by Father Peyton in their own vocation and his heroic virtue, zeal, humility, courage, fortitude and fidelity to Christ, the Blessed Mother and the Church.
For those who think they know Father Peyton well, are there any new nuggets?
I think people will be surprised to find out he was the quarterback at Notre Dame. Kidding. If that were true, I have a feeling his go to play on every snap would have been the “Hail Mary.” Father Peyton devotees might be surprised to learn he had a temper when he was younger. It certainly makes him more relatable, and you realize his holiness was achieved by working at it every day.
What do you think is the heart of the film’s message?
Father Peyton was close to 80 and asked during an interview, “What is the most important event that has happened in your life?” Keep in mind this is a man who spoke to over 28 million people at rallies, met popes and worked with the biggest stars of the day. He responded, “The greatest event of my life was that I was born into a family Rosary home. If it weren’t for that, nothing worthwhile would have been in my life or work.”
That beautifully encapsulates the heart of it all, this firsthand testimony of the power, beauty and importance of family prayer, especially the Rosary. Father Peyton's signature phrase, "The family that prays together stays together," is a timeless sentiment from one of the most influential religious figures of the 20th Century.
To learn more about PRAY: THE STORY OF PATRICK PEYTON and subscribe for updates on the film's release, head to PrayTheFilm.com.
Image: Family Theater Productions