Rosary priest comes alive in museum dedicated to his life, legacy

4 mins read
Peyton Museum exhibit
An exhibit is seen in the new Museum of Family Prayer which is scheduled to open Sept. 15 at Holy Cross Family Ministries' headquarters in Easton, Massachusetts. Courtesy photo

Venerable Father Patrick Peyton’s charming Irish brogue narrates his own life story in one exhibit. Nearby is the black cassock that the Holy Cross priest wore when he led his Family Rosary Crusades around the world.

“He really went out of his way to reach every corner of the world,” said Susan Wallace, the director of external relations for Holy Cross Family Ministries.

Wallace guided Our Sunday Visitor through the new Museum of Family Prayer, which is scheduled to open Sept. 15 at Holy Cross Family Ministries’ headquarters in Easton, Massachusetts.

“We’re so excited for this. We’re really looking forward to it,” Wallace said.

Father Peyton

Through original photos, mementos, artifacts, audio recordings and videos, the Museum of Family Prayer seeks to introduce visitors to Venerable Father Peyton, a Catholic media pioneer and sainthood candidate who was known the world over as “The Rosary Priest.”

Father Peyton rosary
Father Peyton’s rosary beads. Courtesy photo

Father Peyton — who was declared venerable by Pope Francis in 2017 — founded Family Rosary in 1942 and Family Theater Productions in 1947. He spent more than 51 years of his priesthood serving the spiritual needs of families worldwide until his death in 1992 at age 83.

His famous signature line, often said at the end of Family Theater Productions films, was, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

“Before John Paul II, Father Peyton was the Catholic priest known to speak before huge crowds,” Wallace said as she walked past a large black-and-white photo of Father Peyton addressing thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro.

“He was like a rockstar,” Wallace said.

Exhibits of prayer

However, the Museum of Family Prayer is not just a monument to Father Peyton’s fame. It is rooted in his conviction that prayer, specifically the daily family recitation of the Rosary, was the key to peace, love and family unity. Through several interactive multimedia exhibits, the museum is designed to draw visitors and pilgrims deep into the mysteries of prayer.

“We’re looking to bring people in and bring them along on this journey of prayer,” said Lucia Martin, who helped Wallace in guiding OSV through the museum’s several exhibits.

Visitors who enter through the front door walk into a light-filled rotunda and a large display of photographs and videos of people of different religious traditions — Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist among others — praying from all over the world.

Father Peyton
An exhibit from the museum featuring an image of Father Peyton and rosaries hanging from the ceiling. Courtesy photo

“A World at Prayer is a World at Peace,” reads a sign over the multimedia display, which also includes family photographs, Scripture verses and quotes from Father Peyton, who was active in ecumenism.

The interfaith aspect of his life is also reflected in an exhibit exploring the Jewish roots of Christian prayer. The exhibit contains a Jewish prayer shawl and tefillin — leather boxes worn by Orthodox Jewish men during morning prayer — and an interactive component that allows visitors to hear a few psalms read in Hebrew, as well as in English and Spanish.

A few feet away from the rotunda is the museum chapel, where above the tabernacle is a carved image of the Holy Family.

“This has all been in the works for about a year and a half,” Wallace said, adding that she and others at Holy Cross Family Ministries, which Father Peyton himself founded, “pulled so much” from the archives.

That is apparent in the section dedicated to Father Peyton’s life. Reproductions of his birth and baptismal certificates grace one wall, next to photographs of his Irish parents who taught and modeled for their children the value of family prayer.

“The real heroes in all this were his parents,” Wallace said. “They gathered the family every night, and look what came from that.”

A photocopy of the ship manifest from Father Peyton’s immigration to the United States is posted next to photographs showing him as a seminarian and later as a young and dynamic, charismatic priest.

One exhibit contains photos of Father Peyton standing with Bing Crosby and others star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, many of whom starred in films produced by Family Theater Productions. Movie cameras, vintage film reels and canisters give the visitor an idea of the work that went into producing those films.

Father Peyton desk
Father Peyton’s desk from an office he had in Albany, New York. Courtesy photo

“Hollywood kind of thought of him as their very own chaplain,” Martin said.

Nearby, Father Peyton’s desk from an office he had in Albany, New York, is preserved, complete with a pen set and stationary pad that he used to write letters that he sent all over the world. A few feet away, his rosary beads are on display. The beads were given to him by another Holy Cross priest in 1973 because of Father Peyton’s work in spreading devotion to the Rosary.

Vintage colorful posters advertising Father Peyton’s Rosary rallies in New York, Cleveland and California — as well as South America, Asia and Europe — adorn one of the museum’s walls.

“We had to go to deep into the vault for these,” Wallace said.

The final exhibit includes videos of people from all walks of life explaining what prayer means to them. Visitors are encouraged to write down their own prayers and reflections on prayer. They can also take a free rosary before they leave.

“And all this was because his parents gathered their family together to pray,” Martin said.

Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.

Family Theater Productions
Like his contemporary Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Father Patrick Peyton knew media was the way to reach into the homes of people across the country. In the 1940s, Father Peyton began his media ministry when he prayed a Rosary on the local New York radio station. Later, in 1947, Family Theater Productions was born, creating family- and faith-based media. Over the years, Family Theater Productions has featured Hollywood stars such as James Dean, William Shatner and Bing Crosby, appealing to a broader audience. Recent projects include a series for teens and young adults called Catholic Central, and their documentary “The Dating Project” has received high praise in both the Catholic and secular world.

Brian Fraga

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.