BALTIMORE – Recognized widely for his catchphrase — "the family that prays together stays together" — the late Rev. Patrick Peyton spread his message to millions by radio and later television, using Hollywood stars to emphasize prayer and moral values.
Now, the man known as the "Rosary Priest" for his penchant to use rosary beads to say Roman Catholic prayers for even activities like riding in a car, Peyton is being considered for sainthood. The Archdiocese of Baltimore will celebrate a Mass on Thursday to mark the start of the investigating process.
Then, three priests from the archdiocese will spend the coming years reviewing documents and examining witnesses who say they were healed after praying to Peyton. The results will be reviewed by a commission at the Vatican.
Peyton, who died in 1992, used technology to reach more people than he ever could by person, founding Family Theater Productions in 1947 in Hollywood, said the Rev. John Phalen, president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, which carries on Peyton's work.
He bolstered his message with Hollywood elites, including Loretta Young, Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball, who appeared on his shows. He ended many programs with his catchy family message, now trademarked by his ministry.
As Peyton grew up in Ireland, his family prayed the rosary daily and it brought them strength, Phalen said. He thought the centuries-old tradition linked to the Virgin Mary could help other families.
"He was always thinking of Mary and always promoting the rosary," Phalen said. "If you ever went in the car with him, you prayed the rosary with him."
Peyton's driving force in life was a belief that he was healed of tuberculosis after praying to Mary.
"That story is the one he told wherever he went," Phalen said. Doctors said he'd better try prayer because they couldn't do anything for him, and it worked, Peyton would tell people.
Saints are often depicted with a halo over their heads, and those who knew Peyton described him as glowing and holy.
"His saintliness came across in everything he did," said Dorothy Halloran of Albany, N.Y., who worked as his secretary. Even when he dictated a letter, Peyton would start with a prayer, asking God to help him move the reader to aid his ministry, she said.
Peyton emigrated with his brother from Ireland to Scranton, Pa., in 1928 at the age of 19. Later both entered the seminary and were ordained in 1941, following Peyton's recovery from tuberculosis. The next year, Patrick Peyton founded his rosary ministry in Albany, N.Y., and later Family Theater Productions, which produced 600 radio and television shows and aired more than 10,000 broadcasts.
Since the Vatican allowed the canonization process to begin in 2001, Peyton's writings, documents and unofficial testimony have been collected in the Fall River, Mass., diocese, where he is buried. The case was moved to Baltimore because it has the resources and experience, said the Rev. George Lucas, who has worked as a facilitator for the case.
Three priests from Baltimore's archdiocese will spend much of their time reviewing the documents and examining witnesses to prepare Peyton's sainthood case for a three-step process in Rome that requires evidence of two posthumous miracles: a declaration of heroic values, then beatification and canonization, or sainthood.
"Saints are heroes to those of us trying to live our faith," said the Rev. Gilbert Seitz, one of the priests who will review documents and examine witnesses. "We want to know and learn about them and emulate them."