New film features priest who took Hollywood by storm and rallied 27 million people in prayer

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic

3/5/2021

movie poster for Pray

Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., comes to life in an inspiring new documentary, “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Courtesy Family Theater Productions)

The story line for a new movie “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton” from Family Theater Productions reads like fiction.

A 19-year-old Irish immigrant comes to America in 1928 in hopes of becoming a millionaire. Instead, the only work he can find is sweeping floors at a cathedral in Scranton, Penn. The young man pursues his education, rekindles his faith, and enters the seminary several years later. A major setback comes his way in 1938 when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis. The seminarian seeks the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is miraculously cured.

Now the plot thickens and becomes even more unbelievable.

After becoming a Catholic priest with the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, leaves the East Coast for Sunset Boulevard in California. There, he enlists some of the biggest names in Hollywood to work, for free, to help him promote family prayer, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and unwavering faith in God. The stars appear on both radio and television to help the zealous priest deliver his message.

The celebrities include Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Jackie Gleason, Maureen O’Hara, Shirley Temple, William Shatner, Gregory Peck, Raymond Burr, Bob Newhart, and James Dean — to name only a few.

Then the priest begins drawing colossal crowds at Rosary rallies, including 1 million people in Bogota, Colombia; 1.5 million faithful in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; 2 million people in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and 2 million people in the Philippines capital of Manila. In total, the priest draws more than 27 million people to 500 prayer rallies on six continents.

And probably most unbelievable of all, the priest attracts 550,000 people at a Rosary gathering in San Francisco, Calif. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

The documentary, “Pray,” proves that fact is stranger than fiction. See it, and you will get a true glimpse of a remarkable priest that Family Theater Productions says is “the most famous man you’ve never heard of.”

The storyline for “Pray” is all true, with a wealth of personal testimonies, news reports, video footage, as well as radio and television programming to prove it.

Fr. Patrick Peyton
Father Patrick Peyton  (Courtesy Family Theater Productions)

Fr. Peyton was loved and admired by several popes, including St. Pope John Paul II, who called the priest “a man of faith” and praised his movement for family prayer. In 2017, Pope Francis advanced the cause for sainthood for Fr. Peyton, recognizing him as Venerable by the Roman Catholic Church. 

The Irish-born priest was also a friend of St. Teresa of Kolkata. In 1981, actor Bob Newhart hosted a Family Theater Productions broadcast featuring Fr. Peyton praying the Rosary with Mother Teresa. In the program, Mother Teresa tells Fr. Peyton, “I believe what you say, Father, that the family that prays together stays together.”

Jonathan Cipiti, director of “Pray,” shared with the North Texas Catholic his personal motivation for spending the last two years making a movie about a priest he strongly admires.

“I love how Fr. Peyton looked at everybody,” Cipiti said. “He didn’t think that only celebrities could help him. He valued everyone. Our neighbors, our friends, and our families all have value. People around the world have value. Fr. Peyton showed us how to look to others that way and realize that we are all created in the image of God.”

Radio broadcasts and archival television footage provided by Family Theater Productions gave the director great insight about Fr. Peyton, his Rosary crusades, and the people he touched.

“He really came to life for me, and in a big way,” said Cipiti. “And the quality of the material that was available for us to use in making this movie was truly amazing.”

Though this footage, viewers witness future saints, movie stars, singers, and millions of faithful from throughout the world coming together to hear Fr. Peyton and practice his message of growing closer to God through prayer. 

The director continued, “The more I began to realize how many people this man touched, the more I realized we just had to make this movie.”

To think that a priest could draw more than a half million people to San Francisco in 1961 is extraordinary, Cipiti said, but not surprising because Fr. Peyton was an extraordinary communicator with a powerful message.

“When radio was the thing to do, he used radio,” Cipiti said. “When TV became the thing, he used TV. He was never defined by those things. He saw them for what they were — tools.”

Fr. Patrick Peyton talks to a crowd in Brazil

In 1962, Fr. Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., attracted a crowd of 1.5 million people to pray the Rosary in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through four decades, from 1951 to 1985, he brought 27 million people on six continents together in prayer. (Courtesy Family Theater Productions)

And, it’s almost impossible to think of 2 million people all gathered in one place, Cipiti said, referencing the priest’s Rosary crusade in the Philippines, “and I think if Fr. Peyton was here now, he would have even bigger audiences digitally.”

An optimist when it comes to renewing the faith in America and around the world, Cipiti said, “We still have great potential for reaching people.”

The director continued, “I think people want that message now more than ever. When you’re challenged, when you’re tested, when you’re put through trials, you begin to re-examine your faith. You realize that there is more to life than just the temporal.”

Cipiti said it is his hope that when people see this movie and learn more about Fr. Peyton that they understand that dialogue with God should be ongoing, and not practiced only in times of crisis.

Cipiti used an example of communication with a spouse to illustrate the point. “In marriage, if you are communicating with your loved one only when you need something, you are not going to have a very good relationship,” the director said.

“Prayer should become a relationship. It should be communication with One who made you. It’s not about just going to get a need met or a problem fixed. It involves learning about your Creator...”

In the process of making “Pray,” Cipiti said he gained valuable insight that he hopes will be experienced by all viewers of the film.

“I learned that God can use anyone to do His work. So often we think of heroes as people with exceptional qualities that we can never aspire to become. Fr. Peyton’s story is one of a poor boy from Ireland who was on his death bed when God called him. We need to realize that there is a purpose to our life and that we should be open to what that is.

“We need to remember that Christ died on the cross for our sins and that is what unites us. Being able to have conversations, to go with love to our Father in prayer is so important,” Cipiti said.

“Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton” is available digitally on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. It is also available to parishes and groups through special licensing arrangements.

For details on how to watch this movie and to see a trailer, visit: praythefilm.com

Fr. Patrick Peyton

The story line for a new movie “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton” from Family Theater Productions reads like fiction.

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