Fr Patrick Peyton, an Irish-American priest whose popular radio and television programmes promoted family prayer, is a step closer to canonisation.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore recently completed an exhaustive investigation into Fr Peyton’s life and ministry, and archdiocesan officials have sent copies of its 16,000-page report to the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes.
Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore celebrated the closing of the archdiocesan inquiry with a Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.
Citing the archdiocese’s experience with other Causes, the Vatican asked Baltimore to take over the investigation of Fr Peyton’s Cause from the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, in 2006. His Cause was opened in June 2001 in that diocese. Fr Peyton, who died in 1992, is buried in Easton, Massachusetts.
Fr Gilbert Seitz, Archbishop O’Brien’s delegate for the inquiry, said the Vatican will use the Baltimore report to determine if Fr Peyton lived in a heroic manner, which, if confirmed, would result in the Church declaring him Venerable.
Church authorities will then investigate possible healings that could be attributed to Fr Peyton’s intercession. If a healing is determined to be miraculous, Fr Peyton – currently known as a Servant of God – will be declared Blessed. Another miracle will be needed for him to be canonised.
Fr Peyton, who came to the United States from Ireland, aged 19, was the founder of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which includes Family Rosary, Family Theatre Productions, Fr Peyton Family Institute and Family Rosary International.
“It was fascinating coming to know Fr Peyton,” said Fr Seitz, noting that approximately 80 witnesses who knew or worked with Fr Peyton were interviewed for the report. There were 50 witnesses from the United States and 30 from 13 other countries.
“He was fierce in his loyalty to the Church and he was very proud to be Catholic and to share his faith,” Fr Seitz said told The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. “He probably was the first to see the role that electronic media could play in evangelising.”
Dolores Hope, widow of entertainer Bob Hope, was among the American witnesses interviewed. Joseph Campanella, a Hollywood actor, also gave testimony. Fr Peyton came to know them and many movie stars and celebrities after founding Family Theatre Productions in Hollywood in 1947. His ministry produced more than 600 radio and television programmes and 10,000 broadcasts.
The priest also conducted rosary crusades for millions of people in dozens of countries.
“He was extremely dedicated to promoting devotion to the Blessed Mother through the rosary,” said Fr Seitz.
The Baltimore team asked the bishops of 19 dioceses in the United States and 13 dioceses in other countries to appoint boards to take testimony and forward it to Baltimore. Fr Seitz said the inquiry reached out to people “from Sydney to San Diego and from Rome to Rio de Janeiro”.
“Our task was to coordinate the gathering of all that information,” he said. “We also gathered archival material. A historical commission was appointed and its members visited seven different archival depositories to gather historical documents.”
Fr Peyton, the “rosary priest”, is well-known for coining the phrases “the family that prays together, stays together” and “a country without prayer is a country without peace”.
Eileen Gerwin, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Angels in Catonsville, served as Fr Peyton’s first secretary from 1945 to 1948 in Albany, New York. She met the priest when she was a sophomore at Vincentian Institute, a high school Fr Peyton often visited to speak about the rosary.
“He used to dictate letters to me after school and I would type them up,” remembered Mrs Gerwin, who was one of the witnesses in the inquiry. “They went out to priests and bishops and others to promote the rosary.”
Mrs Gerwin remembered Fr Peyton as being a “gentle” and “brilliant” man who was wholly devoted to Mary.
“He loved her and didn’t mind telling people all she did for him and his family,” she said. “He dedicated every minute of his life to her. I never remember him going to a play or a sports event or movie. He almost seemed to have no other passion than our Blessed Mother.”