Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton’: The Country That Prays Together…

February 12, 2021 Updated: February 13, 2021

PG | | Documentary | 9 October 2020 (USA)

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together.” The documentary “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton” tells of the Irish priest who made that phrase famous, and why it was his life’s mission to do so.

In Peyton’s own words: “I’m for God, for peace, justice, mercy, truth, love. I’m for stronger homes and loftier lives, and the better use of time. But first of all, I am for prayer, family prayer, because the family that prays together, stays together.”

“Pray” should really be a biopic—I imagine it soon will be—and the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been a good casting choice to play Father Peyton. But if you can’t wait for the movie, this documentary will do an excellent job as a history lesson, as well as function as a reminder about what is possibly the only solution for where our modern American culture is headed: Pray, everybody!

And it should be noted that while the form of prayer depicted here is primarily Catholic, prayer is universal to all forms of religion, and stories of miracles occurring through prayer are found across all cultures on our planet Earth.

priest in front of microphone in "Pray"
Father Patrick Peyton preaching to the masses, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

Early Life

Born in 1909 in Attymass, Ireland, the young Patrick Peyton grew up in a large Catholic family. No one could have guessed from his general comportment and bad temper that he’d ever be a priest, and when he lit out for America, it was with visions of secular riches dancing in his head.

Patrick and his brother Thomas immigrated to the United States in 1928, staying with a sister of theirs in Scranton, Pennsylvania. There, after much pavement-pounding, Patrick landed a job as the sexton of St. Peter’s Cathedral. After hearing a priest give a sermon, Patrick entered the seminary in Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1929.

young man at altar and stained-glass windows in "Pray"
Young Patrick Peyton (Ronnie Owens) realizing he will become a priest, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

The pivotal experience of his life came when, after coming extremely close to dying of tuberculosis, he turned the tide by praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary with such passion and fervor that he could literally feel the physical shifts inside his lungs, as his body rejected the illness and miraculously rehabilitated itself.

Patrick dedicated the rest of his life to spreading the word about the power of prayer, and he employed every means at his disposal in doing so. This included leveraging radio and pop culture, schmoozing like a pro, and falling to his knees and crying in front of movie stars who said no—thus ultimately revealing himself to be a to-the-manor-born Hollywood player.

However, that said, it is pointed out that every last bit of the entire package of his mover-and-shaker charm stemmed from a guileless, burning desire to serve God and St. Mary and to rescue modern culture from the destruction of the nuclear family, by means of his patented phrase.

priest in front of altar in "Pray"
Father John Leonard speaking of Patrick Peyton, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

The Power of Prayer, Celebrities, and the CIA

Here’s a sample of Peyton’s views, responding to a college student telling him her life was way too busy to pray:

“The role of prayer is like asking: What is the role of air for breathing? If we connect with God and each other, other things will take care of themselves. The family unit would then impact society. Fathers, make your wives proud that she chose you, make your children proud that they have a father like you, and prayer will transform your life. Prayer is the solution to problems of today, not just saying prayer but letting prayer change you.”

statue of Mary with clouds and sky background in "Pray"
A statue depicting the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

Eventually, Father Peyton had Hollywood A-list stars of the era helping him spread his message of family prayer, such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason, and so on, not to mention eventually Pope John Paul II. Such a different time. It’s slightly shocking to see a young, pre-fame James Dean acting in Peyton’s Family Theater Production.

It’s also fascinating to witness how Father Peyton’s “Rosary Rallies” drew a half million people in San Francisco, one of the bastions of the counterculture movement.

One surprising fact is that funding was funneled from the CIA to sponsor Peyton’s rosary crusades in Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia in order to battle communism. The Vatican found out about it and ordered an end to the practice.

The film’s explanation is that Father Peyton was most likely unaware of where the funding originated. But it’s clear that his anti-communist leanings were directly responsible for Filipino communist kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos (and his wife, Imelda, with her notorious shoe addiction) being ousted, due to Father Peyton praying up a storm in their backyard, with oceans of Filipinos in attendance.

Faith-Based Films Needed Now More Than Ever

Family Theater Productions, which Father Peyton himself founded, produced “Pray,” and so it somewhat predictably borders on hagiography, but the power of this man is akin to a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Ghandi, and speaks for itself. His cause for canonization was launched in 2001, and he was named venerable by Pope Francis in 2017, which is the first of three stages leading to sainthood.

I find it strange that I never heard of Father Peyton before viewing “Pray.” The ship of Peyton’s mission foundered on the rocks in the 1970s as American cultural mores reversed course, due to the creeping infiltration by the long arm of Soviet communism. The “long march through the institutions,” with its intent to destroy our culture from the inside out, is well-documented.

While “Pray” is obviously aimed primarily at Christian audiences, it will hold anyone’s attention; the man had that much charisma. “Pray” is directed by documentarian Jonathan Cipiti, whose vision and hope for the film is, in his own words, “That it model family prayer, and if parents have any inclination at all, to try it, even if it’s awkward at first.”

family praying together in "Pray"
Former professional baseball player Mike Sweeney (far right) with his family, in prayer, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

With communism now at our doorstep, “Pray” is the perfect film for America to watch, immediately. There’s a phrase from Eastern philosophy: “It is easier to invite an immortal than to see one off.” The same goes for communism. It’s time to take Father Peyton’s promotion of the healing, cohesive bonding effect of family prayer and open it up nationwide; turn it into “The country that prays together, stays together.”

“Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton” can currently be streamed on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.

hand with rosary beads in "Pray"
Father Patrick Peyton and his rosary beads, in “Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton.” (Family Theater Productions/ArtAffects Entertainment)

‘Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton’
Director: Jonathan Cipiti
Starring: Seamus Mulligan, Steve Gibson, Liam Gillard, David L. Guffey, Dorothy Halloran, Niamh Kelly, L.S.P. Mother Marguerite McCarthy
Running Time: 1 hour, 11 minutes
Rating: PG
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2020
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch