While in California recently, a friend loaned me the autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C. (1909–1992), the saintly, zealous and renowned international crusader for the Family Rosary with the pithy and unforgettable slogan: “The family that prays together stays together.”

Born into a devout Irish Catholic family and well grounded in the Christian faith, Patrick ardently desired to be a priest. Unfortunately his family was unable to meet the cost of his education. However, so very resolute was the young man that, at 19, he emigrated to the U.S.A. together with his brother Tom. Providentially, both made an impact on the local pastor and were successful in securing jobs as sacristans. And there began one of the most extraordinary stories that I have ever read.

In the United States, Patrick and his brother Tom returned to full-time education and studied for the priesthood. During his final year in the seminary, he was diagnosed as having an acute form of tuberculosis, which at that time was incurable. Patrick was very weak and was given little hope by the medical team of recovering to full health. However, he had great faith and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for a recovery to health, promising, if that was God’s will, he would dedicate the rest of his life to propagating devotion to our heavenly Mother.

As a matter of fact, at one stage, fearing that the young seminarian would not live to see to his dream fulfilled, his sympathetic Congregation of Holy Cross superiors did approach Rome with an earnest petition to have his ordination to the priesthood anticipated by a year; and the permission was granted. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 15, 1941. Most miraculously Patrick’s earnest prayers and unshakeable faith were answered and his health began to improve most remarkably to the utter amazement of his physicians, the nursing staff and his own religious confreres.

Thereafter, Father Patrick Peyton launched on his crusade around the world with an irrepressible dynamism and passionate zeal that defy comprehension. He certainly enjoyed the undeniable stamp of divine approval, for every time a complex problem did arise, Father Peyton would earnestly pray to our Blessed Mother, and, wonder of wonders, the happiest outcome would materialize on one of Mary’s many feast days throughout the Liturgical Year.

Thousands flocked to hear him wherever he preached; and the blessings that did accrue were countless. Fully determined to reach as many as possible, Father Patrick organized radio and television shows with many of the famous movie stars of Broadway and Hollywood readily rallying to his support.

Even the enchanting singer, Bing Crosby, was no more than a phone call away! “If God be for you, who can be against you?” said St. Paul; Father Patrick Peyton knew it at every stage of his international crusade to promote Family Prayer using the simplest but most efficacious devotion — the Rosary — and based on the catchy slogan “The family that prays together stays together.” This explains why his heart-warming and inspiring autobiography has been aptly entitled All for Her. The case for his canonization has been recently initiated.

It has been reported that when the ill-fated Titanic was sinking in the icy North Atlantic waters in 1912, survivors in the lifeboats heard the heartrending sounds of the trapped third-class passengers desperately praying the Rosary. Leading them in prayer was a heroic and self-effacing Catholic priest named Father Thomas Byles. Reportedly he was journeying to New York to officiate at the marriage of his brother. When the mighty ocean-liner struck the iceberg, Father Byles was walking on the deck devoutly praying his Breviary. In that critical moment, he realized that those hapless people would need both his presence and his support.

First, he helped women and children to get on to the few available lifeboats. People pleaded with him to join them, but he firmly refused. Instead he worked his way into the third-class compartment and began by granting all present a General Absolution and the Apostolic Blessing. This done, he pulled out his beads and commenced praying the Rosary and that was the last the survivors heard as their lifeboats pulled away from the sinking ship.

Said one survivor later: “The sound became fainter as we drew away from the ship. And in the final seconds before the liner took 1,500 people to their death, the night rang out with the soul-stirring hymn “Nearer My God to Thee” mingled with the gut-wrenching screams of the trapped passengers.”

The Holy Rosary is a people’s prayer, a rich prayer and a powerful prayer. It has been the cornerstone of the Catholic Faith for the better part of the past millennium, and has even played an important part in the history of the Catholic Church. There is a striking legend that originated in Germany about 1,000 years ago.

A young monk was praying Mary’s Psalter, when Mary appeared to him and literally stretched across and plucked rosebuds from his mouth as he prayed. Dexterously weaving them into a crown, Mary placed it on her own head as a mark of her pleasure and approval. This could well have been the origin of the name Rosenkranz (Wreath of Roses), which subsequently became Rosarius (A Garland of Roses) in Latin, and the Rosary in English. In the year 1214, our Blessed Mother promised St. Dominic: “All who recite the Rosary are my sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters of my only Son, Jesus Christ!”

Month of the Holy Rosary

In 1883, Pope Leo XIII directed that October should be the Month of the Holy Rosary. The saintly Pius XII prayed the Rosary even as he was being prepared to meet his Creator. Good Pope John XXIII, in spite of his time-consuming and physically demanding daily schedule, would regularly pray the fifteen decades of the Rosary, embracing the entire world with his fatherly heart and pastoral solidarity. Each evening Pope Paul VI would fervently pray the Rosary with his secretary. In 2002, Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries (featuring significant events in the public life of Christ Jesus) to the 15 decades of the Rosary: Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious. The Rosary was his favorite prayer.

In 2008, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI joyfully announced, “a springtime of renewal. . . .With Mary, our hearts are oriented toward the mystery of Jesus.” And, as a special mark of his devotion, he insisted on visiting the three major Marian Shrines at Guadalupe, Lourdes and Fatima during his papacy.

James (Jim) Caviezel has been internationally hailed for his riveting part in The Passion of the Christ. Without the shadow of a doubt, he is a deeply spiritual Christian, who candidly ascribes his conversion to the overpowering love of God as demonstrated through Christ Jesus and our Blessed Mother. As a matter of fact, Jim very frankly confesses that he did acquire his devotion to our Blessed Mother and the Rosary in and through the example and direction of his beloved and prayerful wife, Kerry.

With candor, Jim tells of his grueling ordeals in the filming of that epic film, The Passion of the Christ. To cope with the strenuous physical, emotional and psychological challenges of playing the part of Christ, he needed nothing short of something absolutely superhuman.

These are his precise words:

“The biggest challenge in the movie was not, as I originally thought, to memorize all the texts in Latin, Aramaic, or Hebrew, but all the physical hurdles I needed to overcome. During the last scene, for instance, my shoulder was sprained, and it became dislocated every time somebody hit the cross.

“While we filmed the scenes of the scourging, I was twice caught by those whips, and I had a 14-centimeter wound on my back. My lungs were full of fluid, and I had pneumonia. Chronic sleep deprivation should be added to that, since for months, I had to get up at 3:00 in the morning, because make-up would take almost eight hours.

“Another special challenge was the cold weather, temperatures hardly above zero, which was especially difficult to endure in the Crucifixion scene. My whole costume was made of one single piece of light fabric. While we were shooting the last scene, the clouds were very low, and lightning struck the cross to which I was tied. Suddenly everything was silent around me, and I felt my hair standing on edge. About 250 people who were around me saw my whole body being illuminated, and they all saw fire on the left and on the right side of me. Many were shocked at what they saw.

“I know that The Passion is a movie of love, maybe one of the greatest of such movies. Jesus today is the subject of many controversies, more than ever before. There are so many factors that threaten our fragile world, but faith in Jesus is the source of hope and joy. I think God is calling us in a special way in this time, and we need to answer that call willingly and unreservedly.” 

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!” TP 

Father Valladares writes from Myrtle Bank, South Australia.