Priest with Scranton ties a step closer to sainthood

By DAVID SINGLETON

The (Scranton) Times-Tribune

SCRANTON, Pa. — The young Irish immigrant who arrived in Scranton and found work as a custodian at St. Peter’s Cathedral in 1928 could not have known he was about to embark on a path that would make him one of the most influential and beloved Roman Catholic priests of the 20th century.

Ninety years later, that road has led the late Rev. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., to the threshold of sainthood.

On Dec. 18, Pope Francis approved a decree recognizing the heroic virtues of Peyton and bestowing upon him the formal title of “venerable.”

It marked a major advance in the cause for the canonization of the former city resident who became known worldwide as the “rosary priest” and who coined the phrase, “The family that prays together stays together.”

The next step, beatification, which carries the title of “blessed,” requires proof of a miracle through Peyton’s intercession. A second miracle would be needed for the pope to declare Peyton a saint.

Although Peyton lived in Scranton for only about 16 months, he returned to the city regularly throughout his life to visit and to preach his family prayer message. Peyton died in 1992, at age 83.

A large bronze statue of late priest kneeling in prayer sits in the Cathedral Prayer Garden at St. Peter’s, where his famous saying is inscribed on the gates.

“Certainly for us, Father Peyton holds a very revered place in our lives and in our hearts,” said the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the Diocese of Scranton. “One would like to believe his faith that prompted him to be the individual he was during his lifetime and certainly now following his death was really nurtured and helped to grow right here in our diocese.”

At Holy Cross Family Ministries in North Easton, Massachusetts, which Peyton founded, the Rev. David S. Marcham said word of the papal decree was met with unbridled excitement.

“We’re really thrilled because not a lot of people get to ‘venerable,’ never mind ‘blessed’ or ‘saint.’ It takes a special person,” said Marcham, who has been at the forefront of the canonization effort for the past decade as vice postulator for Peyton’s cause. “For me, it’s a great joy to share this news with people from places like Scranton but also all parts of the world. People are genuinely happy about it.”

Born in 1909, into a faith-filled family in County Mayo, Peyton left Ireland at age 19 with his older brother, Thomas, to seek his fortune in the United States. They settled in Scranton, joining three of their sisters already living here.

The brothers eventually landed jobs as sextons at St. Peter’s, where the rector enrolled them in St. Thomas High School.

Peyton’s work at the cathedral rekindled his childhood interest in the priesthood and, when the Congregation of Holy Cross extended an invitation, both he and his brother joined the community.

He was still a seminarian and studying at the University of Notre Dame when he was stricken with tuberculosis, an event that would shape his future ministry.

After almost a full year, and as his situation became increasingly grave, Peyton’s priest advisor encouraged him to put his trust in Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the Holy Cross community began a novena on his behalf. Within days, Peyton made a recovery, astonishing his doctors, according to his biography.

In gratitude, Peyton vowed to spend his life promoting devotion to Mary, especially through the rosary, a recitation of prayers in her name.

After his ordination in 1941, Peyton spent the next five decades cultivating the faithful through a regimen of rosary prayer, becoming a groundbreaking Catholic media pioneer along the way.

He founded the Family Rosary in 1942, and led a rosary prayer on a local radio station in Albany, New York, the following year. On Mother’s Day in 1945, he prayed nationally with Bing Crosby on the Mutual Broadcasting System, the largest radio network at the time.

That set the stage for a move in 1947 to Hollywood, where Peyton established Family Theater Productions. Utilizing radio and later television, he produced 900 programs of faith featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and celebrities, such as Bob Hope, Maureen O’Hara, Ronald Reagan and Loretta Young.

Billboards with his inspirational messages — including “The family that prays together stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace” — sprang up across the country.