“Pray is an exceptional movie about an exceptional man, produced at an exceptional time in our history as a nation and Church,” explained Julia M. Dezelski, Assistant Director, Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, USCCB. “It is absolutely vital for families to experience the ‘glue’ that is family prayer, especially the Rosary.”
In order to make the rosary known, Fr. Patrick Payton went on rallies and started a nationwide campaign in the US, in order to make his message known: “The family that prays together stays together.”
Bing Cosby, Gregory Peck, and President Harry Truman are just a few of the “big names” that Fr. Payton won over for his radio show.
But who was this inconspicuous Irish-born priest that revolutionized evangelization over the radio directly from the heart of Hollywood? And what does his legacy “Family Theater Production” still do today to spread the Good News and to minister in the secularized film industry?
iFamNews had the chance for an interview with Fr. David Guffey, CSC about the new documentary “PRAY” on the life and legacy of Fr. Patrick Payton.
iFamNews: PRAY is a film and a documentary – that features you among other people – which is truly impressive. What struck me most was his success in Hollywood itself. What was that all about?
Fr. Guffey: Fr. Payton started in Albany, New York with a radio show. He had done local radio, but he really wanted to do a national radio show. He had a very successful first program, which was a mutual broadcasting system which was a radio network of the US at that time. People counseled Fr. Payton to go to California. So he went to California and obviously asked permission from his bishop. The bishop granted that permission to do this work and Fr. Payton was introduced to the pastor to a local church in California, where many people of the industry attended. And he just started meeting people. He started with a gentleman by the name of Colonel Tom Lewis – remember this was just after World War II – and who was the head and founder of Armed Forces Radio who would help Fr. Payton. Colonel Lewis was also married to Loretta Young, the actress. The two of them in turn introduced Fr. Payton to their friends who worshiped at the parish. After two years, the program Family Theater of the Air, which was the name of our radio program, had the reputation of being able to reach people of other faiths – not just Catholics – and even non-believers. The Program was very ecumenical and had something to do with the family and really resonate with everybody who considered family as a value.
iFamNews: One of Fr. Payton’s core believe is that prayer is so important for the family: What is the role of the family in the greater society?
Fr. Payton grew up in a large Catholic family in Ireland. And every night his family knelt together on the kitchen floor to pray the rosary. Yers later when Fr. Payton immigrated to the United States he still felt an incredible bond with his family which was certainly rooted in their common prayer experience. He prayed his rosary and stayed thus connected to them; they prayed theirs and remained connected to one another. That experience of prayer is what held them together when they were physically apart but that bond of prayer transcended even space. That was really important to him. Fr. Payton loved the concept of the family as the domestic Church of the smallest and most important unity of the Church because that is where people learn how to love, to forgive, to trust and really the place where the most important place of education takes place. So he supported the domestic church and the domestic church is held together by prayer. That was in the heart of what Fr. Payton believes.
iFamNews: What is the role of the father in the family? What is his role of leadership in a society of an “absent father”? What is the essential role to make the family succeed?
Of course, the father is absolutely essential to the leadership of the family and fr. Payton believed that, too. Most of his rally talks included a section on. In the film you can see a section where he says: “Men, make women proud that they entrusted you with their wives and make your children proud, that they have a father like you and that you brought them the great gift of prayer.” That was part of every rally that Fr. Payton held, that men have to be spiritual leaders of their family. I know from studies that I have seen that one of the biggest indicators for a person to have the faith as an adult is whether or not their father practiced faith in their home growing up.
iFamNews: Another film that recently came out is called “The Dating project” – dealing with an important subject for today’s young people. Fill us in…
Fr. Guffey: The “Dating Project” was another project that Family Theater Production partnered in and was also produced by Megan Harrington – the producer of “PRAY”. Every good family starts with the strong relationship of a couple. What we have been finding in the US is that the young people are not dating; not dating in the traditional way, where they get to know somebody and where there is some kind of courtship. We started to the phenomena and led Megan to discover a woman who teaches a course at Boston College, which is about dating. One of the things that she requires all students to do is to ask someone on a first date. No drugs or alcohol are allowed and basically it is a simple “getting to know you”. The students were thrilled with it. That is the basic premise of the film. We followed five people in their desire for dating in their desire for long-lasting relationships. The movie had good receptions in campus ministries but even with people of no faith at all because it is for them where they are at in the dating world.
iFamNews: What struck you most about Fr. Payton?
Fr. Guffey: Fr. Payton was always and ultimately incredibly hopeful. He was hopeful in the potential of families and he was hopeful in the power of prayer. He was hopeful that prayer really could transform families that could in turn transform the Church, which in turn could transform society. I think we need that hope today!