If there was a person who could be considered the least likely to wind up working with the top players of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Venerable Patrick Peyton would be it.
This Jan. 9th is the 115th anniversary of the 1909 birth of Patrick Peyton into the humble cottage of a devout, Rosary-praying Catholic family in the small town of Attymass, in the north of County Mayo, in the west of Ireland.
With dreams of riches dancing in his head, Peyton emigrated from Ireland to the U.S. in 1928.
Instead of becoming a millionaire, he wound up attending seminary at the University of Notre Dame, and, in 1941, was ordained a Catholic priest, of the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Father Peyton's Plan vs. God's Plan
Peyton had hoped to go to the overseas missions, but God had a different plan. In 1939, still a couple of years short of ordination, he nearly succumbed to tuberculosis, but survived, he believed, through fervent prayer and the intervention of Our Lady.
In the 1940s, during the devastation of World War II, he embarked on a mission to get families to pray the Rosary -- a way to view Christ's life through Mary's eyes -- creating an impressive mailing list to get the word out.
In the mid-'40s, while still assigned to Albany, New York, he concluded that he needed to use the mass media -- specifically the emerging popularity of radio.
Off to New York he went and persuaded a non-Christian woman from the Mutual Broadcasting System that his program would be just what American families needed. She agreed to give him the time if he could come up with a big Hollywood star to be on the show.
Our Lady guided the nervous priest as he made a cold call to Bing Crosby, the famous Hollywood singer. Father Pat’s sincerity convinced Bing to be on the program.
On May 13, 1945, families all over the country heard a program like no other, featuring Archbishop Spellman of New York, President Harry Truman, Bing Crosby and the parents and sister of the Sullivan family of Iowa leading the Rosary. Five brothers from that family had lost their lives when their ship went down in the war. Father Peyton finished the program with an impassioned plea for families to pray the Rosary together for peace.
The program garnered the biggest following of any in the Mutual Broadcasting System to date. People wanted more!
The Creation of Family Theater Productions
Following this success, Father Peyton took the further chance of heading to Hollywood, knowing no one and nothing about show business. But that didn't stop him from founding Family Theater Productions in 1947, launching inspirational radio plays under the title of The Family Theater of the Air, and enlisting the biggest stars in town to act in them (for free, by the way).
He later moved into film and TV, and, 77 years later, Family Theater Productions is still going strong, in its original location on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
By the way, The Passion of the Christ and Sound of Freedom star Jim Caviezel is also part of the story of Father Peyton and FTP. Here he is (left) with two of Father Peyton's successors: Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C. (center), and Father David Guffey, C.S.C. (right), at the FTP offices.
A Saintly Man on Sunset Boulevard
In 2017, Pope Francis declared Father Peyton to be Venerable, putting him on the path to possible sainthood.
On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, The Family Rosary -- Venerable Patrick Peyton's original ministry -- launches its annual Family Novena celebrating his birth, encouraging families to pray the Rosary together. But this year, instead of ending on Father Peyton's birthday, it begins then. Click here to download a booklet to help you and your family follow along.
Keeping the theme of supporting families, there's also the Peyton Institute for Domestic Church Life, which offers ways to bring faith home.
But we here at Family Theater Productions hope that you'll also pray for our projects and for the transformation of the entertainment industry. There's much we can learn from Father Peyton's seemingly impossible achievements.
To that end, I caught up with Father Willy (as he's known) and Father Guffey (FTP's current head), to examine what Father Peyton accomplished and how we can employ those lessons today, to produce stories that open hearts.
Below, they -- and Caviezel -- talk about Venerable Patrick Peyton:
Image: Family Theater Productions
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.