Patrick Peyton was born in 1909 into a large family of 9 children, and grew up working the family farm in Co. Mayo, Ireland. After considering a vocation to the priesthood as a boy, he later decided to emigrate to America, where he hoped to make his fortune. But it wasn’t long after he arrived to Scranton, PA that he felt a call to join the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious community that continues to run various educational institutions in the United States, including the University of Notre Dame. After a miraculous recovery from a serious case of tuberculosis, Peyton was ordained a priest in 1941 at the age of 32.
From his childhood, Fr. Peyton had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. His family prayed the rosary together each day. This experience profoundly influenced his ministry as a priest. He was soon tasked with promoting prayer and held large rallies at which he would encourage prayer among Catholic families, especially the rosary. Fr. Peyton was famous for saying: “The family that prays together, stays together.” During the tense decades of the Cold War, he often told the crowds that gathered to listen to him: “A world at prayer is a world at peace.”
Fr. Peyton came to my mind the other day when Pope Francis issued the third encyclical of his pontificate on Oct 4, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Entitled Fratelli Tutti, it is what’s called a “social encyclical,” through which the Holy Father seeks to diagnose the problems facing the contemporary world. Because of its length I have not had time to read it myself, but I have read some commentary on it. The journalist Austin Ivereigh, who has written extensively on Pope Francis, has said that at the core of the Pope’s latest encyclical “is [his] conviction that the world is fast losing its sense of the oneness of the human family. With the disappearance of the common good, dialogue, and solidarity as animating social ideas, humanity is fast sliding into the darkness of civil strife, conflict, tribalism, and nationalism.”
“A family that prays together stays together.” “A world at prayer is a world at peace.” As sophisticated, modern people we might dismiss these words as overly pious and impractical, more suited to a different era. But it’s worth asking what all of our “sophisticated” solutions have gotten us? One could argue that they have largely contributed to the terrible political, social, economic challenges that we currently face. One could also argue that these challenges are the sad effects of a society that has forgotten how to pray.
With the growing fragmentation of community life, Fr. Peyton’s counsel deserves a second look. Perhaps we should be praying together more with our families and even in our circles of friends. Maybe instead of watching news programs or using social media that seem designed to fan the flames of outrage, we could take a break and cultivate instead the habit of taking 20 minutes to pray the rosary together as spouses and as families in the evening. Fr. Peyton believed that no matter if you’re are rich or poor, no matter what language you speak, or what color your skin is – new strength, joy, and peace come to the homes where the rosary is prayed as a family. If Fr. Peyton is right, the fruit of prayer will be greater unity and solidarity among members of a family, and greater charity shown to one’s neighbors – exactly what Pope Francis seems to be calling for in his new encyclical.